What Is Net Neutrality?

What Is Net Neutrality?


Net Neutrality means that the government will—one
day—control the internet. “Wait a second!” I can you hear you saying. “That sounds bad.” But almost everyone you know says that Net
Neutrality is good. Doesn’t “neutral” mean that no one is
picking winners and losers, that everyone is equal? Maybe according to the dictionary, but not
according to the people behind the Net Neutrality movement. For them, “neutral” means the government regulates
the internet like a public utility —and that means bureaucrats making key decisions about how the internet is run. And that’s exactly what happened in 2015. The Federal Communications Commission—or
FCC—under the Obama Administration, came up with Net Neutrality rules and regulations
and imposed them on consumers. No open hearings—they just did it. Here’s what they said: Internet Service
Providers, or ISPs—AT&T, Verizon, and other companies that lay the cable that goes to
your house—are basically monopolies like your typical utility company. To prevent abuse of this position, Net Neutrality
rules prohibited them from charging websites different prices no matter how much or how
little bandwidth they use. But this is exactly the opposite of what utilities
are allowed to do. Electricity providers, for instance, are allowed
to create pricing tiers—the more you use, the higher the price goes. If you use significantly more power than your
neighbor, you pay more for the privilege. “Net Neutrality” forces ISPs to charge
all users the same price no matter how much data they send through the internet. It’s a bad idea. Here’s why: The internet consists of a physical infrastructure
of cable and phone lines that carry the data—we call it “bandwidth.” But of course, there’s a limit to how much
data it can carry. In 2014, just two companies, Netflix and Google
(which owns YouTube), consumed more than 52% of the total bandwidth of the entire internet. All those data-heavy movies and videos clog
up the “pipe.” To combat this massive resource drain, the
ISPs floated the idea of creating “fast lanes”: bandwidth that would be dedicated
to the big users in exchange for higher usage rates. You use more, you pay more. Believe me, I’m no fan of ISPs, but shouldn’t
they be allowed to charge companies more if they use more bandwidth? Furthermore, if companies like Google and
Netflix have to pay higher prices for more bandwidth, they’ll be motivated to find
new ways to push more data through the “pipe.” And creative startups would no doubt see a
great business opportunity to do the same thing. End result: More efficient, faster internet. Consumers win. The big bandwidth users didn’t see it this
way. Instead, they lobbied for the new rules to
prevent the ISPs from charging them differently than anyone else. Naturally, they want to pay as little as they
can for bandwidth. So, they mounted a big PR campaign to convince
the public to back the new regulations. And it worked. How could it fail with a name like “Net
Neutrality”? They argued that without regulations, a very
small number of companies—the ISPs—would wield enormous censorship powers. Our free speech would be in jeopardy. Ironically, the only companies that have been
censoring content are many of the same ones that want Net Neutrality: Google, YouTube,
Facebook, Twitter—the big users. Companies that, coincidentally, had a very
close relationship with the Obama Administration. YouTube’s parent, Google, had more than
427 meetings at the Obama White House during his presidency—a rate of more than one per
week. All those visits apparently paid off. Following decades of exploding internet growth,
the government suddenly interjected itself with a bunch of new rules to stop a non-existent
threat. Those rules were rescinded in 2018 when the
FCC rolled back the Obama-era regulation under the principle that innovation would be much
more likely to happen if the government got out of the way. In other words, the FCC returned the internet
to its pre-2015, pre-Net Neutrality state. Sounds like common sense, right? Just leave the internet alone and let tech
do its thing. Unfair or bad-faith practices by ISPs, should
they occur, can be addressed by existing anti-trust laws—as they always have. But all that followed the rollback decision
was… hysteria. “Taking away #NetNeutrality is the Authoritarian
dream,” actor Mark Ruffalo intoned. Authoritarianism used to be when the government
forced its will on the people. Now, according to Hollywood activists, it’s
when it doesn’t! Or, let’s put it another way: if you want
the current—or any other—administration to control the internet, you’re for Net
Neutrality. If you want the internet to remain free of
government meddling, you’re against it. I’m Jon Gabriel of Ricochet.com for Prager
University.

Danny Hutson

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