Opinion

If You Love The Internet, Set It Free

To understand net neutrality we have to go back a bit.

In the late 2000’s, two entrepreneurs in Paris asked a question: what if there was a better way to navigate “the horrible taxi problem in San Francisco?” What if we could order a shared private driver – through a mobile app – to chauffeur us across San Francisco on demand? Everyone could relate to the problems of cabs — late, dirty, and technologically obsolete. Something needed to be done to fix the cab industry.

In a year and a half, the company launched services, and six months later they were employing 1000 drivers in San Francisco. Through the next 4 years, they expanded their driver pool to over 160,000 drivers in over 100 cities across the U.S., all the while thumbing their noses at regulators and governments they felt were slow, protectionist and anti-consumer. One of the most highly regulated industries was turned on its head.

Wise taxi commissions and local governments are rushing to loosen regulations on the regulated taxi companies and cabbies, enabling them to compete with ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The result has been a boon for the consumer.

Which brings us to the issue at hand.

From the day I arrived in Congress, I’ve heard from constituents concerning another industry at risk from anti-consumer behavior and stifling government regulations: High speed Internet. Despite the emotions surrounding the term “net neutrality,” I think there’s widespread agreement on several principles. On the corporate side, everyone can agree that lawful data on the Internet should not be blocked or throttled by Internet providers or governments. On the regulatory side, governments should not delay critical infrastructure upgrades, or stand in the way of new high-speed Internet providers.

Congress is providing leadership here. Draft legislation was introduced last month that would prohibit blocking and throttling of lawful content over the web. If adopted, this would be a good step towards protecting consumers and promoting a vibrant and free future on the Web.

Next, we should look for opportunities to roll back outdated government regulations that prevent network upgrades and new entrants to the industry. Half the cost of laying or replacing state-of-the-art communications lines comes from crushing regulations. And the regulatory approval process can take years. It’s no wonder that more competitors — including well-endowed companies like Google — don’t jump into the fray. The regulatory hurdles are enormous.

In an opinion piece on Wired last month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that his agency will seek to regulate the net like a utility to replace their repeated failed attempts to enforce net neutrality. Europe tried this approach and the result has been chilling. Applying century old regulations written for monopoly era phone companies to the web is destined for a lawsuit and consumers will suffer in its wake.

If this administration is serious about protecting the Internet and promoting competition among providers, the Title II proposal must be abandoned. There is no better way to ensure a monopoly or enable anti-consumer behavior, than to regulate the industry as though a monopoly is the only option.

Former FCC Chairman William Kennard said it well — “It just doesn’t make sense to apply hundred-year-old regulations meant for copper wires and giant switching stations to the networks of today… We now know that decisions once made by governments can be made better and faster by consumers, and we know that markets can move faster than laws.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The unimagined future of the Internet will be realized once governments and bureaucrats recognize the limits of their knowledge and allow consumers to chart their own course.