As we approach the final phase in the FCC’s third attempt to create a legally viable Net Neutrality rule, the anti-property groups pushing for “real” / “simple” Net Neutrality have expressed near hysterical support for the idea that the only way to protect the open web from “evil” ISPs is to ensure that they are regulated like public utilities. Through FDR-era Title II regulation. And lots of it.
I guess they believe that public utilities – like water, gas, electricity, and our streets – have been the paradigm of growth and innovation?
Sure they are.
You know, U.S. Broadband gets two times better every three years, with no increase in price. Can those utilities do that? Umm, no.
Why? Because they’re regulated to death. There’s no incentive for them to do it.
Hopefully the FCC can see this, and avoid the catastrophic hit to our way of life if it were to make private ISPs public utilities by imposing Title II on them. Such a move would kill the web’s vibrance by neutering the very companies the ecosystem depends upon to deliver its services. (And, of course, the regulation would eventually go further – well beyond policing just ISPs – because that is the nature of regulation.)
Still, it remains unclear where the final rule – which has taken over 10 years to produce – will end up.
Innovating at government speed is a mess. Pretty much always.
A shot I took yesterday of a newly constructed, two-mile piece of road here in Virginia, though seemingly off-point, is illustrative of this point. When 9-11 occurred, a street which this road replaced was closed for security reasons. From the very moment it was blocked 13 years ago, the local community demanded an alternative route.
13 years later, moving at the speed of government, the new road – a public utility – is just now being put into service. If that road were constructed on private property, it would have been completed in less than six-months.
An Internet generation goes by in essentially one-and-a-half years. For companies like Apple, Google, Comcast, Verizon, etc. – this rapid, unforgiving time frame presses them to the edge of their abilities to meet consumer demand. Sadly, imposing public utility regulation on this sector would force the ecosystem to innovate at the speed of government. Companies would be asking, “FCC, can I do this, or that?” instead of just doing it and letting consumers decide. Now, that may be appealing to regulators, but in a regulatory sense it is the exact opposite of where we’ve been since the unregulated Internet exploded with growth and development these past 10 years.
Society moves on Internet time. That road, which regulators can’t hope to transit, should continue to guide the Internet and its thriving ecosystem. To this end, the FCC must avoid regulating the Internet as a public utility. If it chooses otherwise, it will block a proven path to growth and prosperity that has served Americans, and the world, so well.