Thursday, November 13, 2014

Is Net Neutrality really neutral?

Net neutrality is back on the table thanks to the Obama administration’s push to reinvent it after the courts struck it down. There are many otherwise freedom-loving, free market advocates who are starting to fall for net neutrality under the false assumption that it’s about keeping the Internet free. It’s anything but.

Net neutrality is a subjective term. Proponents argue it gives equal access to everyone on the Internet. That sounds fair and open but most people don’t realize there’s limited bandwidth and simply allowing everyone to “do their thing” results in a slowdown for everyone.

I like to compare it to an interstate. There are a finite number of lanes. When there’s a normal flow of traffic then everyone gets to their destinations on time. However, when a road hog like one of those wide loads with the yellow lights and the pilot car come through during rush hour it brings the interstate down to a crawl.

The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are putting those wide loads in the HOV lane and charging them extra for it. Obama wants that stopped. The company everyone likes to hold up as an example is Netflix. They claim it’s unfair to charge Netflix more but Netflix is an Internet hog. Streaming movies takes up a lot of bandwidth and ISPs think it’s fair to cut special deals with these types of companies.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what all the hubbub is about. I have cable Internet and Netflix. I never experience a slowdown. It would be hard to argue that Netflix has been harmed by any ISP deals. Their stock has gone through the roof and they’ve launched original hit television shows like House of Cards. In short, it’s not clear who Obama’s new proposal is designed to protect.

One thing it does is turn ISPs into public utilities with the government regulating what products and services they can offer and at what price. Sen. Ted Cruz summed it up in a tweet. “Net Neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.” Exactly. This is a solution in search of a problem.

Most folks have no problem with their Internet access. In fact, most people love their Internet access. They can do more, see more, experience more than ever before. And that’s happened without government interference. If you don’t like your ISP you have choices. Competition. That’s what makes everyone better. If the government sticks its nose in the middle of it the innovation will be stifled and your ISP will be turned into any other public utility.

Nothing against your local electric company but there’s not much incentive for innovation. The last thing we need to be doing is turning your ISP into another public utility.

At the epicenter of the net neutrality movement is an assumption that you have a right to the Internet your way. These folks forget just how recent dial-up was. The cable companies invented broadband. The phone companies followed. Our lives have been wildly enriched by the whole process. Why would we want to alter the matrix of how we got here? 

If the government wants to be useful it can stop allowing these big telecommunications companies to merge. I supported the president when he blocked the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. We should be inviting and encouraging more competition. We should be blocking attempts by the big boys to gobble up the little guys. More competition is what this market needs. The very last thing the market needs is more government control.

Phil Valentine is the host of the award-winning, nationally syndicated talk radio show, The Phil Valentine Show.

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