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What ‘Net Neutrality’ Really Means

Those who coined the term "net neutrality" are hoping the words will make the public, and especially lawmakers, believe it’s a good thing. But if passed into law, this e-Trojan horse could inhibit further development of the Internet for years, if not decades to come, putting America at a distinct technological disadvantage with other nations in the world economy.

Already, this country hovers around 15th worldwide when it comes to broadband penetration. And while many Americans do not yet have access to broadband — sometimes called high-speed Internet — technology advances are quickly overloading our current bandwidth capacity to deliver live video, real-time gaming and broadcast quality movies.

The term "bandwidth" itself is probably confusing to many, but it’s important in this discussion. So let me try to ‘splain it in layman’s terms…

Think of a typical garden-variety garden hose. Now think of sending a small marble through the stretched-out garden hose as you hold one end above your head. No problem, right? The marble will roll right on through from
beginning to end.

OK, now imagine trying to send a golf ball through that same garden hose. No can do, right? The golf ball is too big to roll through the narrow garden hose. And even if you were somehow able to get the golf ball into the hose, it would inevitably get stuck in the middle somewhere and block all the marbles you might try sending through behind it.

Think of the cable bringing your Internet connection into your home in the same way as the garden hose. And think of your typical email messages coming through the cable as the small marbles.  Now think of someone trying to send you, say, Shrek II through that same cable.  That movie is the proverbial golf ball trying to go through the garden hose.

In order for the Internet to deliver new services such as live video feeds and full-length movies, we’re going to need greater bandwidth to make sure such things come through without gumming up the works. The fact is, we do not currently have unlimited bandwidth. And until we do (if we ever do), we need to avoid the traffic jams and blockages which are sure to arise.

There is a reason the Internet was once called the Information
Superhighway — and a highway is a good analogy here. Think of those times on the freeway when traffic is heavy and best described as stop-and-go.

Now, those who are willing to pay more have the option of taking a shorter, less-congested toll road or drive in a high-occupancy lane.  For some, the additional cost will be worth it; for others not. That’s what choices are all about. With the free-market, you get lots of choices. With government you get…well, things like the public school system.

Now let’s look at "net neutrality."

Let’s say you want to send a birthday card to your nephew Ronnie.  You put a 39-cent stamp on the envelope and drop it off at the post office. And away it goes (you hope). Now let’s say that instead of sending little Ronnie a birthday card, you want to send him a shiny, new bicycle. If you support so-called "net neutrality," that means you think the government should require that the post office deliver Ronnie his shiny, new bike for the same price it charges to mail him the birthday card. The post office would have to be "neutral" in what it charges to mail any given item.

The fact is, mailing a bike eats up a lot more resources than mailing a card; just as it eats up a lot more resources to deliver broadcast quality movies through your Internet cable than it does to send a simple email.

What "net neutrality" proponents are basically saying is that they want the government to guarantee that you can send a bike through the mail system for the same cost as a birthday card…which inevitably will mean the cost of mailing a birthday card will skyrocket.

"Net neutrality" is the camel’s nose under the tent leading to government control of the Internet — a line most conservatives and libertarians have refused to cross for more than a decade. The Internet has flourished thus far precisely because we’ve kept the government from taxing and regulating it. "Net neutrality" activists, such as the far-left MoveOn.org, are courting multiple dangers by inviting government oversight now. For one thing, technology changes overnight, but government regulations tend to respond with the all the speed of…well, the post office or the DMV.

Passing legislation to regulate the Internet is an idea whose time should never come.

Written By

Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach.

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