Net neutrality: Get out of the way, bureaucrats

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We’ve all heard the old adage, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

There is perhaps no other issue for which that adage better applies today than Internet innovation. There are the leaders—telecommunications and cable companies investing tens of billions of dollars annually in broadband network expansion and innovation.

There are the followers—countless American consumers and businesses that rely on evolving broadband connections for Internet access.

And last but not least, there are those who simply need to get out of the way—government bureaucrats who have set their sights on the flourishing Internet as their next takeover target via net-neutrality regulations.

Indeed, some Washington politicians are currently considering frivolous legislation to impose onerous restrictions on the web and regulators at the Federal Communications Commission are advancing their own proposed rules, making unnecessary Internet over-regulation a very real threat.

The name “net neutrality” constitutes one of the worst misnomers in recent memory. Neutrality is a benign concept that most people welcome. But much like most of the dubiously titled legislative initiatives and regulatory concepts floating around Washington these days, net neutrality would actually work counter to what its name suggests. Specifically, it would put the government in charge of the network management practices of private Internet service providers and other broadband companies.

Thus, net neutrality is anything but neutral.

Thanks to private investments of $60 billion or more annually by Internet service providers, the World Wide Web has blossomed over the past decade into a tool that most Americans use daily to access news, information and entertainment. We also use it to communicate with family and friends, to share photos with loved ones, and for education and civic participation purposes. The Internet drives increased commerce and promises efficiencies in the healthcare and energy sectors. It motivates new innovation and jobs on a pace that continues to surpass our collective imagination.

All this has been made possible primarily because the Internet has remained largely unregulated. Its growth and development have been gated not by federal bureaucrats, but rather by users’ individual wants, needs and dreams.

But all of that could change if net neutrality regulations are put in place.

Never mind that the FCC already has effective regulations in place that prevent network providers from discriminating against any lawful content, no matter the provider. Net-neutrality proponents both inside and outside the current administration claim the FCC’s existing non-discrimination principles—despite their efficacy in the past—are somehow insufficient. They want the government’s heavy hands on the controls.

If they are successful, the terrible consequences will be swift and sure.

Private investments in network expansion could literally freeze up. The availability of high-speed broadband access for underserved and unserved communities would go from being a likely prospect to a dubious dream. The promise of nascent broadband Internet applications such as online classrooms and colleges and online health monitoring and record-keeping could wither and die.

Furthermore, the hundreds of thousands of workers employed by broadband companies could see their jobs disappear as the government takes control of network management and private network providers stagnate. Not exactly a wise course of action during an indolent economic recovery.

If the government wants so badly to be productively involved with the Internet, then it should incentivize the private sector to continue building and deploying high-speed broadband networks.

Beyond that, the best thing the federal government can do to increase broadband expansion and adoption, and consequent growth in high-speed Internet access and applications, is to do what a growing movement of Americans is asking it to do: Simply get out of the way.

Jeffrey Mazzella is president of the Center for Individual Freedom. Timothy Lee is the organization’s VP of Legal and Public Affairs. CFIF this week launched a comprehensive online campaign against net neutrality, which can be accessed by visiting www.StopNetRegulation.org.