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The Absurdity of Net Neutrality

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Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) recently endorsed the Federal Communications Commission's proposal to impose network neutrality on private-sector Internet service providers. Doyle says the plan serves the FCC's "congressionally mandated role to protect consumers and promote the public interest."

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) goes a step further, suggesting net neutrality regulations are the only way "the Internet will remain open and free for everyone who uses it." Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have made similar statements.

Little wonder so many politicians support net neutrality: It opens the door for them to control the world's single-largest source of information, entertainment, and ideas. And if that's not frightening enough, net neutrality is fundamentally anti-consumer, anti-competition, and anti-market.

Net neutrality would require an ISP to offer its service-bandwidth for Internet access-at a single price, regardless of how much a customer uses. Heavy bandwidth users-people streaming high-definition video or downloading software and movies, for example-would pay no more for the service than customers simply browsing the Web or accessing email. The heavy users would be allowed to slow things down for all other users, without paying more for the privilege.

The absurdity of net neutrality is apparent when you apply it to other businesses:

  • Instead of allowing Old Navy to charge for each piece of clothing it sells, the federal government should require it to charge a flat fee for admission to the store. Ticketholders would be allowed to take as much as they wanted throughout the day.

  • Rather than offering individual entrees at varying prices, or reduced-price menus for kids and seniors, Perkins restaurants should be required to offer only single-price buffets. Diners would be required to pay the same price regardless of how much they eat.

  • DirecTV should be required to offer all channels to all subscribers, for a single price. Subscribers who don't watch sports, foreign films, or adult entertainment should pay the same monthly fee as those who do.

  • Barnes & Noble should be required to sell every book ever published. Storeowners should not be permitted to control what's available to their patrons by failing to stock some books.
  • Why do some politicians support such obvious foolishness? Kelly Cobb of Americans for Tax Reform says, "When the first of such regulatory steps tap into the very spine of the Internet-the networks on which everything else depends-that opens the door for further regulation and government intrusion."

    Net neutrality wrests power not from ISPs, but from the consumers they serve. Under a net neutrality regime, ISPs must obey the rules and regulations established by the federal government, rather than responding to consumer preferences in the marketplace.

    Network neutrality is a major shift of power from individual consumers to the federal government. Little wonder high-ranking government officials support it.

    Marc Oestreich (moestreich@heartland.org) is telecommunications legislative specialist for The Heartland Institute.

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