The Federal Communications Commission has voted to impose the controversial “Net Neutrality” regulations on the Internet, by a vote of 3-2. It was a partisan vote, three Democrats against two Republicans.
“Controversial” isn’t really the right word for Net Neutrality. “Reviled” would be more appropriate. As a Fox News op-ed from Americans For Prosperity president Phil Kerpen points out, the regulations have no support in Congress, the American people are in open revolt against government power grabs, every single one of the 95 candidates who pledged to support Net Neutrality were defeated in the last elections, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled against it.
This is yet another example of profit through regulation. One of Net Neutrality’s key features is the control of internet resource allocation, supposedly intended to prevent Internet providers from “unfairly” allocating extra bandwidth to causes they favor, or organizations who pay for the privilege. (Bandwidth as a commodity? The horror! Everyone knows bandwidth is the collective property of the people and their glorious workers’ Party!) This excuse is a transparent lie, as there has never been a single legitimate case of a “net neutrality violation” advanced for consideration in the United States.
In practice, government regulation of bandwidth allocation is a burden smaller Internet providers cannot absorb as easily as larger companies, in much the same way minimum wage laws hurt smaller businesses more than giant corporations. Smaller companies flexibly allocate resources to take advantage of opportunities, which has the happy effect of reducing cost to all consumers. You can have easy access to your cousin’s cat-blogging site because Amazon.com pays extra for high speed, and there’s bandwidth to spare. Net Neutrality forces all traffic to be treated equally, which is both ludicrous and guaranteed to dramatically increase costs to low end consumers… to say nothing of heavy compliance costs, which Internet providers will pass along to their customers.
If implemented, these regulations will turn Internet access into an infuriating metaphor for the superiority of free-market capitalism over calcified socialist mediocrity. Your Internet experience will both increase in cost and degrade in quality. Much of the fantastic power of a broadband connection comes from the way providers shift bandwidth around to meet requests for access. Their systems provide more power to high-bandwidth requests, taking power away from someone who’s playing with Facebook or sending the occasional email, and giving it to users who want to download movies or software. This is done so smoothly and seamlessly that most users barely even notice. You’ll most certainly notice when Net Neutrality kicks in, and the government starts regulating bandwidth allocation.
This hurts small entrepreneurs most, because a large provider can more easily absorb the cost of being forced to treat all traffic equally. Let’s say the government passed a rule that all lunches must be prepared in 5 minutes or less. Small family restaurants would be ruined, but McDonald’s can already meet such a requirement, or sustain the cost of whatever manpower and infrastructure is needed to do so. Such mandated service also illustrates the job and opportunity-killing aspects of Net Neutrality, because in this example, it would be impossible to open a restaurant serving gourmet food, as it would take too long to prepare. Mandating a uniform level of service, like all other price controls, guarantees mediocrity, because it destroys the opportunity to profit from excellence.
A while back, comedian Jon Stewart mocked opposition to Net Neutrality by complaining that toothpaste companies would buy up all the bandwidth, and he wouldn’t be able to watch the Hamster Dance online. This little joke perfectly encapsulates the larger truth of the situation. If you want to watch the Hamster Dance in real-time streaming high definition, Mr. Stewart, you can bloody well pay for it, just like the toothpaste companies… and the fact that the toothpaste companies are paying for premium access makes Hamster Dance levels of bandwidth available to everyone at reasonable rates. When will liberals learn that the free market creates, while government control rations and destroys?
There is also a strong ideological component to this power grab, because it is an attempt to ration media… and the Left’s favored outlets already have huge stockpiles of information access. For all the silly whining about Fox News, the Left still dominates television and newspapers. The worst threats to its media dominance come from the internet and radio, which has its own “Fairness Doctrine” threats to watch out for. Net Neutrality threatens the business models of upstart Internet operations, which suits the interests of dinosaur media companies just fine. Dinosaurs hate the sight of tiny mammals bearing hordes of offspring, destined to replace them on the evolutionary ladder.
Three people on a five-person panel just voted to seize control of these complicated issues. The incoming Republican Congress has already promised action. It should be one of the first things they address in 2011, followed by the removal of the people who voted for this electronic coup. They no longer understand their purpose. For that matter, the FCC itself is beginning to develop some decidedly reptilian characteristics.