Congress Debates Internet Fast Lane

Congress is in the midst of debating whether online-service providers can favor certain Web sites or services. Commentator Scott Cleland says the best way to combat this is by keeping the Internet free and open to competition.

It’s really a debate over dueling visions of the future of the Internet.

Net neutrality proponents worry that telecom, wireless and cable companies might one day favor their own content and applications over others. They want Congress to pass a new law to ban that practice by regulating the price of broadband service and the way it’s sold.

Now, net competition proponents, like me, believe that the best way to guard a free and open Internet is to maintain the free and open competition that exists today, not create a new government-monitored, socialized Internet.

First, net neutrality is really a misnomer. It’s really just special interest legislation, dressed up to sound less self-serving. Did you know Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are lobbying for net neutrality? If they’re successful, they’ll get a special, low-government-set price for the bandwidth they use, while everyone else — consumers, businesses and government — will have to pay a competitive price for bandwidth. [It] doesn’t sound very neutral to me.

Second, net neutrality would be a 180 degree reversal of the government’s highly successful policy to promote competition and not regulate the Internet. Amazingly, the proponents of this radical change in policy don’t even have any real evidence of a problem, only unsubstantiated assertions about hypothetical problems.

Finally, net neutrality legislation would be a lousy trade off for consumers. The consumer benefits would be small, but the cost to consumers would be huge. Price regulation would destroy any economic incentive to innovate and invest in the private networks that make up the Internet. Over time, we would end up with a slower Internet and higher broadband prices and taxes for consumers, less broadband choice and slower broadband deployment to all Americans. And it would also mean less privacy for all Americans, as net neutrality would require more government monitoring and surveillance of Internet traffic.

In short, don’t be fooled by the superficial appeal of the net neutrality legislation. The idea is rotten to the core because it’s a heavy-handed fix to a nonexistent problem, and it’s a lousy cost-benefit trade off for consumers.

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