As with many of the more complex issues of our time, the concept of net neutrality — a free and open internet — has been reduced to little more than a meme used to rile up fanatical online opposition to a smart policy decision. Add to that, it’s a policy decision that dates back to the 1990s and was embraced by both sides of the political spectrum. Unfortunately, this oversimplification not only distorts the issue, but now Congress is trying to reinstate harmful regulations on the internet that will have serious consequences for every American internet user.
Currently, some liberal members of the U.S. Senate are trying to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order. If successful, this effort would weaken investment in high-speed internet networks, hurting rural communities in our state the most. U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy would help Louisianans most by opposing this effort and injecting some much-needed common sense into this debate.
For those who haven’t been following this somewhat wonky issue closely, the net neutrality debate has been going on for quite some time, but the temperature got dialed up when the Obama Administration’s FCC decided to apply Title II utility regulations — literally written for rotary telephones more than 80 years ago — to our modern internet. Essentially, this meant the federal government would regulate the internet as they do any public utility. We all know the challenges Louisianans have had with our public utilities, so why mire the innovation engine that is the internet in such bungling government policies?
Supporters of this policy claim it’s vital to ensuring that consumers’ internet traffic and data would not be unfairly slowed down, blocked, or censored. The problem is, that is simply not true.
Even federal courts argued that not only would the utility regulations fail to prevent such behavior, they also noted that internet service providers do not censor content out of fear of upsetting and losing their customers; that is how the free market works. The internet is what it is today because the market forces of competition and consumer choice fueled its growth through new advances, products, and services — not prescriptive government meddling.
Furthermore, even without utility regulation of the internet, there are already laws on the books that allow state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers if companies engage in any anti-competitive behavior. Imposing utility regulations on the internet was quite literally a solution in search of a problem.
In the two years when utility regulations were in place, they only served to hurt consumers, not protect them. Under the government’s control, high-speed internet investment dropped for the first time in the history of our country outside of an economic recession. Declining investment in internet infrastructure most directly hurts rural parts of Louisiana, where we should be doing everything we can to strengthen and expand high-speed services.
The current FCC’s decision to roll back Title II utility regulations was absolutely necessary to encourage the long-term investment in infrastructure that will not only help improve and expand high-speed internet nationwide, but also spur the a new wave of technological advances not unlike those that enabled the internet to flourish for the first 20 years of its existence.
Louisiana’s Congressional leaders should resist emotional calls to reinstate damaging utility regulations and seek a different approach to ensure a free, open, and thriving world wide web. For now, we hope Sens. Kennedy and Cassidy will reject any effort to increase the government’s control of the internet. Louisiana will be the better for it.
Daniel J. Erspamer is the chief executive officer of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a free market think tank based in Louisiana.