I often have trouble explaining exactly what the problem is with the government mandating net neutrality. Luckily President Obama’s statement on the FCC’s recent decision on the matter has done most of the work for me — I just have to help him be more explicit about a few things. Words in brackets are my additions.
Today’s decision [by FCC bureaucrats] will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet [as defined by the government] while encouraging innovation [as directed by the government], protecting consumer choice [as circumscribed by the government], and defending free speech [as approved by the government]. Throughout this process, parties on all sides of this issue – from consumer groups to technology companies to broadband providers – came together to make their voices heard. [In fact, the government always listens to the people’s complaints, even when it isn’t politically expedient.] This decision is an important component of our overall strategy to advance American innovation, economic growth, and job creation. [Because no one will innovate, the economy won’t grow, and no jobs will be created unless we, the government, have an overall strategy to make sure that all those things happen.]
I am reminded of a one-liner I once heard about Apple Computer: “Apple offers the best in user-friendliness. User-friendliness, of course, is defined as ‘what Steve Jobs thinks you should find intuitive.'” That’s basically the problem with net neutrality. Sure, a lot of it makes a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean it makes sense for everyone, nor that it will continue to make sense indefinitely. The tech sector evolves by the minute. The FCC? More like a decade. Codifying a certain type of content delivery strikes me as the height of folly, and has led to stagnation in the telecom sector in the past — no one talks fondly of the “Ma Bell” era. So why do so many people want to head back that way?
It seems to me that the likely result of mandatory net neutrality will not be a vibrant, free Internet, but instead a politicized mess where instead of treating all types of traffic equally, it will be the case that some types of network traffic are — to borrow Orwell’s well-known phrase — more equal than others.
For more on network neutrality, check out my colleague Ryan Radia’s piece, “Video: The Open Internet and Lessons from the Ma Bell Era,” and from the Progress and Freedom Foundation’s Berin Szoka and Adam Thierer, check out “Just say no to Ma Bell-era Net neutrality regulation.”