Ever since the initial progressive push for net neutrality some years ago, I’ve had trouble keeping the intricacies in my mind. It’s just one of those issues that I research to understand well enough to respond to something but have not had sufficient interest over the long term to keep my point-by-point understanding immediately accessible in the folds of my brain.
However, a simplistic AP explainer appearing in the Providence Journal captures the key point, for me:
The FCC in 2015 approved rules, on a party-line vote, that made sure cable and phone companies don’t manipulate traffic. With them in place, a provider such as Comcast can’t charge Netflix for a faster path to its customers, or block it or slow it down.
The net neutrality rules gave the FCC power to go after companies for business practices that weren’t explicitly banned as well.
On its own, the second paragraph raises an important question: Who “gave the FCC power” like that? The first paragraph gives the disturbing answer: The FCC did. Folks, that’s not how our government is supposed to work. The AP writer’s reference to “a party-line vote” makes it seem as if there was some sort of democratic component to the process, but if that isn’t a deliberate attempt to distort the process, it illustrates how thoroughly journalists have absorbed the progressive notion of governance.
The United States Constitution nowhere provides for parties in power to appoint partisan representatives to a board and then for that board to give itself new powers. That our judicial system did not protect us from this usurpation of power illustrates how corrupted our government has become.
This complaint isn’t merely one of legal process, because it gets to the heart of why we’re supposed to be up-in-arms about the FCC’s decision to give up its self-granted power. Pro-net-neutrality advocates claim to be afraid that telecommunication companies will somehow risk harming consumers if they’re allowed to maintain control over how things move over their networks, but those same advocates take for granted that five unelected commissioners on the FCC should have even more-fundamental power than that.
While we should expect private companies always to be looking for financial advantage, we should prefer the market itself to offer the correction. If people aren’t able to access the services they want, they’ll look for Internet alternatives. At this point, a typical family has multiple access points for the Internet — from home Internet service, from smart-phone service, from school or work service, and from WiFi services at coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and on and on. If your home or smart-phone provider is keeping you from enjoying something, you’ll know, and the incentive for telecommunications companies is to maximize their ability to provide people with the services that they want.
The incentives for unelected bureaucrats, by contrast, are to give the highest-paying special interests what they want and to answer the political interests of the partisans who appointed them. Anybody who wants to behave as if the end of net neutrality is the end of the free Internet has to explain why the latter state of affairs is preferable to the former.