The Federal Communications Commission will vote Thursday on whether to repeal or preserve its net-neutrality regulation. Barring last-minute changes of heart, the commissioners will vote 3-2 along party lines to repeal.
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers should make all content available at the same speed. That doesn't mean loading Netflix on a 25-megabits-per-second connection just as quickly as on a 100-megabits-per-second connection; it means treating Netflix and Hulu the same on whichever kind of connection a consumer has.
That is what the current regulation mandates. Below are some leading arguments for repealing and keeping the net-neutrality regulation.
First of all, the current regulation is, as the National Review's editorial board put it, an example of the “kind of lawlessness [that] ran rampant in the Obama administration.” The FCC derives its authority from the Federal Communications Act, and the law does not say anything about the power to tell Internet providers how they can or can't distribute content.
If there is going to be a net-neutrality mandate, it should come from Congress.
True net neutrality can't be achieved, anyway. Multiple factors affect content delivery speeds, and regulations can't ensure across-the-board equality. Sure, a start-up streaming service could theoretically match Netflix and Hulu; in practice, however, a start-up can't fix bugs and update software rapidly enough to keep pace.
The regulation is a solution in search of a problem. The Internet worked just fine before the Democratic-controlled FCC passed the net-neutrality regulation in 2015, and it will work just fine after the rule is repealed. That's because Internet providers understand that it is in their own interests to maintain a level playing field.
Could Comcast, a part-owner of Hulu, artificially slow down Netflix? Sure. But it wouldn't do that because it wouldn't risk losing Netflix users to Verizon. Capitalism works.
The real threat is not to fair competition between giants such as Hulu and Netflix; the threat is to fair competition between big companies and small ones. Small companies face enough barriers. The last thing they need is for larger competitors to be able to buy faster delivery speeds that start-ups cannot afford.
Imagine a new travel-booking website that always loads slower than Kayak and Orbitz. Impatient customers will quickly give up on it, and the new site will fail. That means fewer competitors in the travel industry, which is bad for consumers.
Free speech could suffer without a net-neutrality regulation. Under the repeal plan outlined by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Internet providers could block websites they don't like.
Market demands would probably prevent them from exercising that right very often, but why give huge corporations that kind of power? Consumers should be free to make their own decisions about content.
A repeal would encourage further consolidation. The Justice Department is suing a major Internet provider, AT&T, to block the company's acquisition of a major content producer, Time Warner. President Trump has said the deal would result in “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
So why on Earth would the Trump administration roll back the net-neutrality regulation and give Internet providers such as AT&T more incentive to buy content producers such as Time Warner? It makes no sense. If Internet providers suddenly have the power to speed up content they own or slow down content owned by rivals, then they will want to own as much content as possible — which means more business deals such as the one Trump opposes.
This post, originally published on Nov. 23, has been updated.