Boots & Sabers

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Tag: Net Neutrality

FCC gets it right on net neutrality

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.

Government Seizing Control of Internet

Without a vote by Congress, of course. That’s not the Obama way.

The Federal Communications Commission is about to usher in the most dramatic government intervention in the Internet in two decades — heralding a liberal shift toward greater oversight of one of the nation’s most important economic engines.

Majority Democrats at the agency are expected to vote Thursday to approve FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality plan, which will regulate broadband like a public utility to ensure all Web traffic is treated equally. They’re also poised to encourage towns and cities to compete with the dominant telecom companies in providing Internet service to consumers.

Taken together, the two moves, which are vehemently opposed by the FCC’s two Republican members, represent a seismic shift in the relationship between the government and the companies that run the Internet — and mark the biggest change to communications policy since the 1996 Telecom Act.

Obama Moves to Regulate Internet

Yes, that’s what “net neutrality” means. It’s not about neutrality. It’s about government control.

“President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works,” Pai said. “The plan explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes on broadband… These new taxes will mean higher prices for consumers and more hidden fees that they have to pay.”

In his initial cursory overview of the plan, the commissioner said it would hinder broadband investment, slow network speed and expansion, limit outgrowth to rural areas of the country and reduce Internet service provider (ISP) competition.

“The plan saddles small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market,” Pai said. “As a result, Americans will have fewer broadband choices. This is no accident. Title II was designed to regulate a monopoly. If we impose that model on a vibrant broadband marketplace, a highly regulated monopoly is what we’ll get.”

Freedom of the Internet

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is.

Freedom of the Internet

Presidential decree not needed to fix it

In the wake of the Republican sweep in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama has decided to disregard the obvious message of the voters and charge ahead with his liberal agenda on a number of fronts. One area where Obama sees the need for more government intervention is in the regulation of the Internet.

The issue of net neutrality has been percolating for several years. While many people glaze over and search desperately for their happy place at the mention of “net neutrality,” it is really a debate that transcends the specifics of the day and is just the latest manifestation of the continual struggle between liberty and government control. In this case, Obama is seeking to advance more government control under the guise of protecting liberty.

The rise of the Internet has been the most transformational development in the evolution of civilization since the institution of farming. It has broken down barriers of thought and borders. It has enabled the first truly global economy. The Internet has destroyed industries and created others. It has allowed for the greatest dissemination of knowledge in history.

There are few areas of life that the Internet has not touched and it continues to expand exponentially into the lives of everyone on earth with each passing day. And while the Internet certainly has a dark side, it has also facilitated an overwhelming expansion of good in the world.

The rise of the Internet is also a testament to what people can do when the government stands aside. It is precisely because the Internet has largely escaped regulation and that the old regulatory structures are illsuited to sink their claws into the ethereal body of the Internet that it has flourished. Those days may be coming to an end if Obama gets his way.

At the root of the issue is the same thing that is at the root of most political issues: money.

On the one hand, there are the Internet providers. These are the cable, satellite and telecom companies that provide the infrastructure to deliver the Internet to your device.

On the other side are the content providers. These are the media, news and advertising companies that provide the actual content that Internet users view through the Internet.

The Internet providers are able to throttle and block traffic however they choose. They can choose to block some websites or make access to them slower or faster. They can do this for technical reasons or they can do it for financial reasons.

One thing that the Internet providers want to be able to do is to charge content providers for consumers for premium access. For example, Time Warner or Charter can make it faster for subscribers to get to Google instead of Bing if Google pays them money for it.

The content providers do not want to have to pay the Internet providers to allow consumers access to their content. Also, since many of the content providers charge consumers for the content, they do not want their customers to be driven away by high prices if they have to pay the Internet providers for access just to pay the content providers for the content.

In the end, you have a war between companies like Time Warner and Comcast against companies like Netflix and Disney for the consumers’ dollars. What Obama is proposing is for the federal government to regulate Internet providers like utility companies and forbid them from prioritizing Internet traffic on their networks for any reason.

What the government should do, and what it has done to date, is keep its beak out of it and let the market decide. The argument for regulating the Internet providers, dubbed “net neutrality,” is that consumers may be harmed if they restrict access to valuable content. This is an argument that fails to address an actual problem.

To date, there is no widespread issue with Internet consumers not being able to reach the content they want. Even if it were, it is not the consumers’ right to access specific content and the government has no business forcing it. Still, if this was a problem, there are literally hundreds of Internet providers and consumers have the choice to take their business elsewhere and the market will correct it. If the market fails and it is deemed in the national interest to correct it, then, and only then, should we consider government regulation.

Here, again, we see Obama going about this with the power of executive action instead of through the normal legislative process. Whether or not we decide that our federal government should regulate the Internet is a massive issue that should be debated and vetted through our elected representatives. It is not something that should be enacted by decree on the authority of a single man.

Leave the Internet alone, Obama. It is doing just fine without you.

(Owen Robinson’s column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)



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