Barack Obama, self-confessed BlackBerry addict, will undoubtedly be the most tech-savvy president in history. But being tech-savvy isn’t the same as being tech-smart.
The combination of Obama in the White House and new leaders of key tech-related committees in Congress should send warning flags up for all who cherish the freedom and vitality of the Internet.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the technology sector. Waxman-like Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee-is a strong proponent of so-called “net neutrality.” Despite its innocent-sounding moniker, net neutrality is hardly neutral.
A federal law mandating net neutrality would strip Internet service providers (ISPs) of the ability to control how they manage Web traffic over the broadband infrastructure they developed, built, own, and market to the public.
The ISPs-such as Comcast in the cable broadband market and AT&T in the DSL realm-argue their business models demand the ability to play traffic cop over their networks. They have a compelling case. A small minority of Web users downloading immense files can slow down the traffic flow for everyone on the network. So the ISPs have two choices: Slow down the big users a little so the majority of customers don’t experience a puzzling and frustrating lag, or charge bandwidth hogs more for downloading huge files.
Allowing the ISPs to control their networks accomplishes three things: Improving service for Web users, prompting heavy downloaders to make wiser choices, and raising capital for the ISPs to improve their broadband networks.
Customers who don’t like those conditions can shop around for an ISP with policies more to their liking. That’s how things are supposed to work in a free country.
The incoming Democrat-dominated Congress is hostile to such a market-based remedy, however, calling it discriminatory. Everyone using the Internet, no matter how much bandwidth they use, should be charged exactly the same amount, they say. Obama, who voiced his support for “net neutrality” during the campaign, would double down on that view by filling the Federal Communications Commission with like-minded appointees.
This would certainly reduce the public’s ability to use and enjoy the wonders of the Internet. A system in which the technology market quickly adjusts and improves service to attract and keep customers would disappear. In its place would arise one in which the government decides how traffic should flow-punishing most Internet users and rewarding a greedy few.
If you admire the logical efficiency of the Transportation Security Agency, you will enjoy the “benefits” of government-imposed net neutrality. But if you like the vibrancy and innovation of the Internet in its current form, now is the time to start opposing a policy that Congress, Obama, and the new FCC are poised to embrace.