Bringing Net Neutrality Back from the Dead Would Be a Big Mistake for Congress

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Congressional Review Act resolutions to nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s December rollback of new neutrality regulations are making their way around both chambers on the Hill. As of this writing, the House effort has 110 Democrat co-sponsors and there are 50 co-sponsors in the Senate. While it’s heartening to see so many in Congress taking an interest in agencies’ regulatory activities, passing this CRA resolution would be as bad an idea as net neutrality regulations themselves were.

It’s hard to imagine the legislation passing the House, and even more difficult to see President Trump signing it, as he is on the record supporting the regulatory rollback, but free marketers can never be too careful. You can read a coalition letter CEI signed here, but let’s review some net neutrality regulation facts.

The Internet operated exceedingly successfully for almost twenty years before the Federal Communications Commission abruptly changed course and applied its 1930s era Title II utility regulations. Prior to regulation there were no cases of sustained blocking of lawful content by Internet service providers. Net neutrality regulations were a solution in search of a problem.

Conversely, the FCC has an abysmal history of delaying innovation, favoring entrenched interests, and ignoring the interests of consumers. The FCC allowed almost no innovation in landline telephone service for fifty years, took sixty years to achieve 94% coverage, and postponed mobile phone introduction for thirty-five years. To expose the Internet to that agency-turned-albatross would be to ignore history and injure the future.

Many of the contractual arrangements banned by net neutrality regulations are commonly found in other industries and much to the benefit of consumers. Paid prioritization might make sense for gaming companies; consumers only going online for email would certainly benefit from paying less for a slower, but still perfectly adequate data speed. Just as not everyone needs their passport renewal expedited, it’s nice to have the option. Letting customers opt to pay more for something faster should not be illegal.

Net neutrality regulations also had unintended consequences that hurt consumers. Investment in broadband declined for the first time outside of a recession. That means less competition in the industry, and no one can argue that’s to the benefit of broadband customers. The regulations also resulted in banning free (and desirable) content for consumers. Free music streaming arrangements got caught up in the regulation’s ban on ISPs favoring some content over others.  

For more on the perils of net neutrality regulation, visit CEI’s library of information on the subject here.