Net Neutrality

Obama: Government Should Regulate Internet to Keep it Free

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So President Obama has announced that the Internet should be regulated as a public utility. He's asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) from "information services" under Title I as telecommunications providers under Title II regulatory guidelines. (See here for background on the distinction.)

This is all being done in the name of "Net Neutrality," keeping the Internet free and open, prohibiting "fast lanes" for certain services and sites, making sure no legal content is blocked, and all other horribles that…have failed to materialize in the absence of increased federal regulation.

Reason contributor and Clemson University economic historian Thomas W. Hazlett defines Net Neutrality as "a set of rules…regulating the business model of your local ISP." The definition gets to the heart of the matter. There are specific interests who are doing well by the current system—Netflix, for instance—and they want to maintain the status quo. That's understandable but the idea that the government will do a good job of regulating the Internet (whether by blanket decrees or on a case-by-case basis) is unconvincing, to say the least. The most likely outcome is that regulators will freeze in place today's business models, thereby slowing innovation and change. 

Obama is old enough to remember Ma Bell, which was even worse to customers than today's cable and Internet providers. And he is smart enough to recognize the Orwellian contradiction in introducing onerous new regulatory regimes in the name of keeping anything "free." The FCC has never been particularly adept at acting in the "public interest." The less control it has over the Internet (and TV and anything else), the better off we will all be.