Two weeks ago a federal appeals court ruled in a 3-0 decision against Net neutrality, the Federal Communication Commission’s latest scheme to control the content delivered by Internet Service Providers. Politicians have long desired to treat ISPs like utilities, such as water or electricity companies, yet the government has instead taken a wildly successful laissez-faire policy towards the Internet. With no regulatory structure in place, ISPs have been free to supply Internet connections in whatever way they see fit, and as a result of the profitability of their broadband services, access to increasingly faster Internet connections has rapidly expanded across the nation. The free market has transformed the Internet from an obscure piece of military technology into an indispensable social network connecting businesses, friends and families across the globe. Had it not been defeated in the courts, the destructive policy of Net neutrality would have stifled this groundbreaking revolution in mass communication.
Recent calls for Internet regulation have come in lieu of the decision by ISPs such as Comcast to slow or block access to certain Internet sites. For those that desire full access to filtered websites like YouTube or BitTorrent, ISPs offer tiered services. Cheap Internet packages are slowed and obstructed, whereas expensive Internet packages allow greater, unrestricted access to the Internet. From the ISPs’ perspective, tiered services are a sound business practice, yet regulators insist that every American citizen has a right to equal, unrestricted Internet access. Their policy of Net neutrality would have required ISPs to give every customer, regardless of what type of service package they purchase, equal access to every part of the Internet.
On its face, Net neutrality appears to be the most benign of regulations. Indeed, the heated controversy surrounding the proposed policy stems from the fact that it would be the first of its kind; the Internet remains one of the few aspects of modern life that is not regulated by the government in some capacity. Yet Net neutrality is the first step towards a suffocating government bureaucracy that controls every facet of our online lives. While providing equal Internet access to all may be a noble, well intentioned goal, once the government is given authority to declare what content ISPs must supply to their customers, there will be few limits on its regulatory power.
The decision over whether or not to regulate the Internet is fundamentally a decision of whether we desire to live in a free or statist society. In a free society, Internet providers may filter certain websites, but they will run their businesses in a profitable fashion and provide their consumers with increasingly efficient and superior Internet services. In a statist society, the government will dictate what ISPs can and cannot provide and how they must provide it, choking their ability to profit from their services. With the federal court’s recent decision, we may not have a neutral Internet, but we still have a free, vibrant and growing Internet.