Discussion on Internet policy is stuck in neutral

By Eli Talbert / Columnist

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Until recently, the incident that provoked the most comments on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) website was Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004. 

But a new record of 3.7 million comments has nearly doubled that. What could possibly attract more attention than Jackson’s areola? Only the meeting of Americans’ obsession with the Internet and irrational hate of corporations. In other words: “net neutrality.”

Infuriatingly, the American people seem to dislike the reasonable ability of corporations to create so-called “fast lanes” — essentially, a separate route around congested Internet traffic. But, like with most things, Americans are dead wrong. Thankfully, we have politicians to think for us. 

The controversy centers on the FCC’s newly proposed rules to replace the ones a federal court recently struck down on a legal technicality. The former rules made communication companies treat all similar content on their networks equally, like streamed videos, for instance. But, unlike the old ones, these newly proposed rules — while preventing Internet providers from blocking specific legal content — allow companies to provide content at different speeds. 

At least, this is what net neutrality advocates and their ilk would like you to think. What the American people don’t seem to realize is that the FCC’s new rules are actually a disguised government takeover of the Internet. 

If people would simply stop thinking about the purpose of the rules and focus more on the idea of regulation, they would see the light. In fact, when the conservative group American Commitment helpfully reframed the new rules in its petition to “regulate the Internet” by “left-wing extremists,” it managed to obtain 814,000 signatures in opposition. 

Thankfully, lobbying groups such as American Commitment are aware of the horrible tyranny the federal government had over the Internet from 2010 to 2013 when the older, stronger rules were in effect. 

Even if groups like American Commitment have somehow misconstrued the issue at hand, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to despise net neutrality. 

For one, how will Internet providers function without the ability to charge content providers for faster service? If Comcast can’t charge Google or Netflix so that their videos or other content can get to consumers faster, how will Comcast ever improve its service? If net neutrality is enforced, Comcast would be forced to improve service using money from their measly profit margin of 11.83 percent

In fact, if net neutrality advocates had their way, the FCC would regulate the Internet similarly to the way it regulates radio and phone lines, which is a horrendous proposition.

Neutrality advocates also claim that the new rules will prevent Internet providers from censoring content with which they disagree. Laughably, they believe that ethical role models such as Verizon — which even has its own foundation (the Verizon Foundation) dedicated to giving to charities of all types — would act to increase profit by silencing criticism. The concern is that they would purposefully stream sites that  slower than their own. 

But even if corporations did stream other content slower than their own, if we can’t trust corporations to decide which content should be on the Internet, who can we trust?

Proponents of net neutrality go as far as appropriating the idea of a free market in their mad quest for power. They argue that, without net neutrality laws, content providers will reduce free competition  as they will then make preferential deals with Internet providers. Small startup websites with limited funds will not be able to take off if internet providers force them to make a preferential deal to be competitive.

Though this dealmaking may seem like a valid concern, it is rather simplistic. It is not like we are a speed-obsessed society who will simply give up if a web page takes 10 seconds longer to load than YouTube or Facebook.

At the very least, net neutrality proponents should appreciate that the FCC Chairman, Democrat Tom Wheeler, is the main proponent of the new, looser rules. 

If a Democrat is taking a stand against his fellow liberals, you know that they have gone too far. It is only those with an obvious partisan bias that make a huge deal about how, in his previous career, Wheeler was a lobbyist for cable companies and made millions from investing in them. 

After all, Wheeler has assured that he has made a clean break with his former bosses. And further laying rumors to rest, Wheeler told the press that, “I am not a dingo,” in response to comedian John Oliver’s quip that having a dingo babysit your kids was like having a former lobbyist become head of the FCC.

Overall, this is just one more battle between the proponents of the free market system and those who want to regulate it to death. 

There are no valid reasons for economic regulation, especially for one as flimsy as censorship. America should suck it up and get unstuck from the idea of net neutrality. Only then can we can appreciate the benefits of having an Internet where YouTube loads faster than The Pitt News. 

Without net neutrality, watching cat videos will get that much easier, so just say “No” to neutral.

Email Eli at ejt26@pitt.edu 

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