The Internet is similar to a series of tubes, and net neutrality is the idea that all data that flows through those pipes should have equality, regardless of content. This principle of net neutrality means that the movie you are streaming on Netflix has the same weight and speed as the person who is buying products on Amazon, or the person scrolling through their Facebook feed. Everyone is so scared about net neutrality going away and the big scary internet service providers (ISPs for short) throttling their internet speed, forcing them to go the sites they want them to go to, or making websites pay for privileged access to their tubes. This article seeks to explain the controversy and explain reforms to this public policy. Throughout I hope to show you all that more government in your internet is a bad thing and more free market capitalism is a good thing when it comes to guaranteeing net neutrality.
Government Actions So Far
Government action and regulation on ISPs has been very sparse since the start of the internet almost forty years ago. In 2015, the first significant rule regarding net neutrality came from a series of regulations passed by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC. These rules made up over three hundred pages of a four hundred page document that outlined the regulations internet service providers have to follow. In essence, the FCC codified into federal law the principle of net neutrality in the United States.
When this occurred, cheers and boos came from many different people. Many people were excited that the government had done something “right.” They had protected one of the major bastions of free thought and speech in the world and our country. The other side warns of a lack of innovation if the ISPs, who built these high-speed networks are allowed to manage them as they see fit. Both of them have good points to make, and that makes sense.
In the first year of President Trumps administration though they threatened to overturn these regulations. He appointed as the chair of the FCC Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, who has pushed to overturn the order (Solon, n.p., 2017). Protestors called on people to stand up July 12 and protest these actions. All comments to the FCC on the proposed repeal of the regulation are due to the FCC by July 17.
The Problems with the Government Regulation
The first issue with the FCC’s rule deals with the fact that they made a law that other people and groups have to follow without any Congressional oversight. The FCC voted itself the power to regulate the internet as a public utility without an act of Congress. They expanded their power without Congressional approval. This power is the problem of giving regulatory agencies the power to make, write and enforce regulations. They can subvert the law-making body of the United States without the pesky problem of elections. This action makes the rules themselves unconstitutional because they do not have the legal power to regulate the internet. The Supreme Court has consistently overturned FCC regulations on the web for this very reason. The FCC has attempted numerous times to reclassify the internet as different ways to give them the power to regulate it. The most recent was struck down by a U.S. District Court in 2014 (Wikimedia). The fact that a regulatory agency can establish its jurisdiction or reclassify a type of technology with little or no government oversight stinks of a government overreach of power. And that is the biggest problem with the regulatory system we have today.
In our current systems, Congress passes laws that establish regulatory agencies within the executive branch of the government. The president then appoints people to run these regulatory agencies. These agencies make specific rules within the legislative mandate given to them by Congress. Congress can and does, occasionally, practice oversight on these agencies, but they are pretty much left to operate on their own. Why is this system a problem? It is problematic because the lawmaking power granted to Congress in the U.S. Constitution is then given up to them, willingly, to another branch of the government. So not only is the president enforcing the law, their appointed members are making the law. This mixing of power with few checks and balances is dangerous. What is the solution to this problem?
Congress needs to stop legislating its power away and leaving it to the experts to make the rules. They have the authority to create the law, all regulations, punishments, and incentives in the law. They have just gotten too lazy and have dangerously mixed the branches of government.
If I Were President
Since Congress has the authority over interstate commerce, they have the power to legislate on this issue. The president should encourage the Congress to write a law authorizing and establishing the legal principle of net neutrality. It should deal three major points.
First, within this bill, they should also consider breaking up the legal monopolies given to the internet and cable television providers. People worry about ISPs blocking, slowing down, or forcing people to pay for specific sites or services on their networks. They worry because this has occasionally happened (Karr, n.p., 2017). These actions by ISPs are only possible because there are so few providers for cable tv and internet. States, local municipalities, and the Security and Exchange Commission have allowed for monopolies to form that takes the choice away from people of where they get their cable and internet. They have regulated the market to make it impossible to control them without more laws when the free market would work just fine. If there were actual competition in this area of commerce an ISP that attempted or did these practices would lose business to those who do not. The market corrects the corrupt activities of those who practice them.
Secondly, this bill should define what is legal and illegal uses of the internet, just as there are legal and illicit uses of every public utility and service. We cannot siphon electrical power without permission. We cannot drive whatever speed we want on public roads. The Congress needs to identify what is a legal and illegal use of the internet and then the ISP can regulate their network within these structures. File sharing is a violation of copyright law, and the ISPs would have it within its power under this law to block such programs.
Thirdly, the Congress needs to define and provide for punishments and incentives to those ISPs that violate net neutrality. They should also allow for the ISPs who have to create the networks we use to regulate them as they see fit, as long as they do not block access to any part of the internet that is legally allowed. Also, they would not be allowed to throttle (slow down intentionally) services or sites that compete with them.There is nothing wrong with the ISPs charging people more for priority service or a fast lane on their networks. People do that all them time with other services why should the internet be any different.
Net neutrality is a good idea and principle to live by in these days of the technological revolution. Under a truly minimally controlled system of internet service providers, the free market would ensure that people got the best service for the lowest price. In the end, though, the whole regulatory system in the U.S. needs be revamped to prevent regulatory agencies from usurping power for the U.S. Congress. The FCC does have a role in regulating the internet, but only under the rules set by Congress, not the ones they make themselves. A law could easily be drafted, passed, and enforces that both gave the FCC power to regulate this principle of net neutrality while allowing the free markets ensure the consumers the best service and prices while allowing these private companies to control the systems that they built with private investment.
Many people do not believe it in this day and age, with socialism being so hip and fashionable, but if you let the free market work instead of trying to control everything to the betterment or downfall of others, we always have lower prices and better goods. Let’s try it on the internet.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Thanks for reading! Class dismissed!
Internet Citizens: Defend Net Neurality. Perf. CGP Grey. YouTube. YouTube, 5 May 2014. Web. 13 July 2017 (Video about basics of Net Neutrality).
Karr, Timothy. “Net Neutrality Violations: A Brief History.” Free Press. Free Press Action Fund, 25 Apr. 2017. Web. 13 July 2017 (Cited in the article).
Reardon, Marguerite. “13 Things You Need to Know about the FCC’s Net Neutrality Regulation.” CNET. CBS Interactive, Inc., 14 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 July 2017.
Solon, Olivia. “Why the 12 July Protest to Protect Net Neutrality Matters.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 July 2017. Web. 13 July 2017 (Cited in the article).
“Verizon Communications Inc. v. FCC (2014).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 June 2017. Web. 13 July 2017 (Cited in article).
“What Is Net Neutrality?” American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU, June 2017. Web. 13 July 2017 (Featured Image).