My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has decided to move forward with reversing Obama-era regulations of the interned dubbed “net neutrality.” In doing so, President Donald Trump’s FCC is upholding a bedrock conservative principle of free market capitalism.
The internet has been atwitter for years over the issue of net neutrality. One side of the debate argues that the government should ensure that everyone has equal access to the internet. The other side argues that the people and companies who own their piece of the internet should be able to do with it what they please. While there are certainly philosophical or theoretical skirmish lines in this debate, the real war is being fought by giants of American business. As is always the case, one only needs to follow the money to see why.
First, let us remember that the internet is simply a vast array of millions of computers that are interconnected by millions of networks. All of those computers and networks are owned by separate people and companies who voluntarily connect them to each other for their own purposes.
On the “equal access” side of the debate are the giant media and entertainment companies who produce the movies, news sites, games, pornography, commercial marketplaces and other content that people consume through the internet. They argue that whatever they produce should be equally available to anyone at any time by any means.
On the “free market” side of the debate are the giant telecommunications companies who own the massive networks that connect all of the computers to each other and to the consumers who access the internet. They argue that since these networks are their property, they should be able to manage it and charge people to access their network as they please.
The media companies are worried that if the government does not force net neutrality, then the telecommunications companies will be in a position of market power to force the media companies to pay for access to consumers. The telecommunications companies want to do just that in order to monetize their network.
This debate is not about the internet consumer and whether or not he or she will be able to access cat pictures on Instagram at 100 megabits per second. This debate is about whether or not the government should regulate people and their businesses on how they manage and monetize their private property. Specifically, it is about whether or not the government should force telecommunications companies to give everyone the same access on their networks. Interestingly, nobody is talking about the government forcing media companies to give everyone equal access to the content they produce.
One of the principles that has helped drive the American economy for centuries is that the government should regulate less — not more. Laissez-faire economics are fundamental to free market capitalism. And while some may fear the consequences of less regulation, the invisible hand of the free market has proven for centuries to be the best regulator of prices, market access, allocating scarce resources and consumer demand.
Let us walk through the worst case that the net neutrality adherents envision. In a world without the federal government regulating net neutrality, the telecommunications companies may manipulate the speed and access to certain internet content based on whether or not the content providers pay them. But remember that there is already competition — often very robust in urban areas — between internet service providers. If consumers are demanding access to certain internet content, they will speak with their consumer choices and the internet service providers will be forced to accommodate. Woe to the internet service provider, for example, who cannot deliver Netflix or Hulu without choppy buffering.
Until President Barack Obama came along and thrust net neutrality regulations on the nation, the internet was thriving with both internet service providers and media companies tripping over themselves trying to meet the demands of internet consumers. The Trump Administration’s FCC is on the right track in reversing Obama’s antifree market internet regulations. It is just such deregulation that will continue to allow the internet to be the transformational economic and societal engine that it is.