Gradually over the last few years, Net Neutrality has creeped into the news cycle again and again until it reached a fever pitch earlier this week. But what exactly is Net Neutrality and what risks does it pose to the free flow of information as we know it?
“Net neutrality is about how traffic flows through the Internet. When someone sends a message over the Internet, it gets broken up into tiny bits called ‘packets.’ Each packet gets passed around from node to node, eventually arriving at its destination…. Net neutrality is a policy that mandates that all packets be treated the same regardless or source, destination, or content, with very limited exceptions for traffic that’s illegal, malicious, or unwanted.”
Earlier this week President Obama urged the commissioner of the FCC to codify Net Neutrality in part by reclassifying the Internet as a public utility. There could not be a worse idea for how to deal with the issue of exploitative ISPs than to reclassify the Internet as a public utility. Just like you, I too favor a free and unconstrained Internet. But the worst way to achieve this goal is to allow the state and those who compose it to impose their will on ISPs and Internet consumers.
The thing is, you can be in favor of Net Neutrality in principle without favoring government manhandling the freest, most innovative domain in human history into submission. President Obama’s plans for the Internet would stifle innovation, raise costs, and lower quality across the board. But this is likely the least bad outcome of federally imposed Net Neutrality. Ask yourself, do you really want the same institution responsible for the NSA dragnet surveillance responsible for setting requirements for ISPs? It’s setting the fox to guard the henhouse.
When no one is in charge, order emerges spontaneously. The Internet is the clearest example of this serendipitous Hayekian emergent order. Appoint the state to control the Internet and we will soon see the special interest groups lobbying bureaucrats and politicians in order to regulate their competition out of business. FCC regulations would be a huge barrier to entry to Internet startups and a boon to established Internet providers. And with technologies like bitcoin and 3D printing just beginning to emerge, there could not be a worse time to impose government’s stifling constraints.
The surest way to promote the implementation of true “Net Neutrality” would be to continue to allow the Internet to operate uninhibited by government regulations, especially of the type that come with Type II utility classification. The market, in the end, is the toughest regulator due to the very fact that it does not play favorites.
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