Regulating the Internet: Stop trying to fix what’s not broken

Dave McClure Contributor
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The Internet works. Reliably, efficiently and economically. Yet Washington now wants to step in and “fix” what’s not broken, possibly subjecting the Internet to decades-old rules intended for the old Bell Telephone network.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski claims that the agency is not out to regulate the Internet. And yet with the Commission’s “notice of proposed rulemaking” on so-called net neutrality, that is exactly what they will be doing.

It is a notice of proposed rulemaking, after all—not a notice of “we’re leaving well enough alone.” Not only is this bad public policy, but it breaks with decades of precedent.

In the late 1990s, the public Internet was still in its infancy. Recall the days of dial-up AOL, and personal GeoCities Web sites. At that time, the Clinton administration at all levels called for a hands-off approach to the Internet.

  • Vice President Al Gore, 1997: “[L]eave supervision not to the government, but to the people who know the Internet best.”
  • Then-FCC Chairman Bill Kennard, 1999: “This FCC is not going to regulate the Internet.”
  • President Bill Clinton, 1997: “The Internet should be a free-trade zone with incentives for competition, protection for consumers and children, supervised not by governments, but by people who use the Internet every day.”

The White House even released a white paper in 1997, which specifically called for private-sector oversight of the operation of the Internet:

  • The White House “Framework For Global Electronic Commerce,” July 1997: “Accordingly, governments should encourage industry self-regulation wherever appropriate and support the efforts of private sector organizations to develop mechanisms to facilitate the successful operation of the Internet. Even where collective agreements or standards are necessary, private entities should, where possible, take the lead in organizing them.”

Under these thoughtful and sound public policies, the Internet was able to grow by leaps and bounds, precisely because it was not regulated with a heavy government hand.

Now, some dozen years later, the Obama administration’s FCC is planning to undo the precedent set by the Clinton Administration.

A handful of content companies and special interest groups have spent several years and quite a bit of money trying to convince the government and the public that net neutrality is a major problem that needs to be regulated.

And yet after all these years and all those dollars, they can only point to a couple of incidents to illustrate their point—incidents which were actually solved by the market, not by government intervention.

The FCC’s net-neutrality proposal remains a solution in search of a problem. Rather than letting consumers and the market decide, as they have all these years, the FCC is looking to preemptively solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

And if the FCC can’t do it through their rulemaking process, they’re even considering re-classifying broadband Internet access under the same regulations used to regulate the old land-line telephone network  as though the Internet was just like a black rotary phone like your grandparents used.

This is not just regressive. It’s dangerous.

We, the consumers of the Internet, should be afraid of what this heavy-handed government intervention could mean.

Dave McClure is president of the U.S. Internet Industry Association.