By Chuck Muth
Try to think of some societal problem in which the government solution didn’t make the situation worse or more expensive. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Over the past decade, the Internet has changed our lives in ways impossible to fully list. Do you remember the “old days” when you had to actually open up a dictionary to look up the meaning of a word or crack open an encyclopedia to learn about some obscure species of animal or foreign culture? Kids today now simply “google” a subject and have their information in a nanosecond.
The Internet has grown and flourished because it’s a great idea enabled by advanced technology which is affordable to the average consumer combined with minimal government involvement. Yes, the net still has some problems with “spam” and viruses and such, but private enterprise is addressing and fixing those problems every day. Life’s not perfect on the worldwide web, but it’s pretty doggone good.
That could soon change if the federal government successfully gets its busy-body nose under the e-tent with a really bad idea known in political circles as “net neutrality.”
Net neutrality is manifesting itself this year in the Democrat-controlled Senate via a “bi-partisan” bill being sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Most Republicans oppose this bad idea, but finding a token moderate GOPer like Snowe to put her name on such bad bills allows the opposition to call their legislation “bi-partisan.” It’s one of the bigger frauds in Washington perpetrated on voters, but I digress.
Net neutrality sounds nice. After all, who doesn’t like non-confrontational neutrality? Can’t we all just get along? Let’s all hold hands, form a circle and sing after me: “Net neutrality, my Lord, net neutrality…”
But the reality of net neutrality is this simple: New government regulation of the Internet. Net neutrality, in essence, says that someone who uses a lot more of a service only has to pay the same amount as someone who uses a minimal amount. Think of an all-you-can-eat buffet where “Large Marge” loads up her plate three stories high and pays the same amount as the person who just grabs a small salad.
Granted, privately-owned buffets take such disparities into consideration when setting their prices. But net neutrality proponents don’t want the free market to set such prices; they want the government to control them. And that’s a prescription for disaster for the Internet. Once government gets even a modicum of Internet control, it just won’t be able to help itself. In a worst-case scenario, accessing the Internet could become as convenient as registering your car at the DMV or filling out your tax return.
Perhaps net neutrality can best be thought of as the government telling FedEx it can only charge 39-cents to deliver a letter overnight. That way the price of delivery - whether it’s within 24 hours via an express carrier or within six weeks via the post office - the price will remain “neutrally” the same. That’s simply un-American.
Thus far, congressional legislative efforts such as Dorgan-Snowe to impose net neutrality on an unsuspecting and often-gullible public have been thwarted; however, never underestimate the creativity and drive of the Left when in relentless pursuit of a bad public policy idea. Although Internet regulation would absolutely be a matter of federal scope, net neutrality agitators have already begun attaching such regulatory proposals to state legislation. In Michigan recently, for example, a net neutrality provision was added to a bill dealing with video franchise reform –ironically a bill to DE-regulate the cable monopoly on television programming which would give consumers more choices and lower costs.
More ominously was the successful effort by net neutrality proponents recently in holding up a $67 billion merger between AT&T and BellSouth. The merger required approval by the FCC. The two free-market Republicans on the commission were in favor of letting the merger go through, thus benefiting consumers. But the two Democrat commissioners refused to approve the merger until AT&T agreed to “voluntarily” abide by net neutrality provisions for the next two years. Kinda like a kidnap victim “voluntarily” signing a confession with a loaded pistol nestled against his temple.
The net neutrality issue may not be as “sexy” as, say, the Iraq war or illegal immigration. But the passage of net neutrality legislation has the potential to cripple the most successful innovation of our lifetimes while retarding further advances. Unless we want the Internet to eventually run with all the speed and efficiency of the United States Postal Service, netizens better wake up and actively oppose these net neutrality schemes before it’s too late.
That’s simply net reality.
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2006 Chuck Muth. All rights reserved. “Muth’s Truths” may be republished providing the column is copied intact, and full credit is given. Talk show producers interested in scheduling an interview with Mr. Muth should call (202) 558-7162
By Chuck Muth