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Rubio: Government Is Crashing the Internet Party

Apr 8, 2015 | News

The Internet is the most open and inclusive economic arena in world history. With it, a student in his or her dorm room is just as capable of creating a popular service as any billion-dollar company, a single mom designing T-shirts in her living room can access just as many potential customers as the largest department store and anyone with a big idea can bypass financial kingmakers and go directly to the public for capital.

The Internet, more than any invention in history, brings together a perfect storm of free market forces: low barriers to entry, unencumbered contact between consumers and providers, and instant feedback for new ideas. It has become a thriving exhibition of the power of free people operating in a free market to create prosperity and opportunity.

Predictably, the federal government wants to crash the party. The Federal Communications Commission’s recent 332-page plan to regulate the Internet is being sold as “net neutrality,” which is an existing concept predicated on preventing Internet service providers from creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for different content. But there are several significant problems.

First, while the FCC plan supposedly seeks to prevent ISPs from playing favorites, it does so by giving that power to another entity: government. This is illogical, particularly because the federal government is adept at rigging the economy in favor of powerful interests. The answer to correcting injustice in an economy is to increase consumer power, not government power.

Second, the issue of ISPs creating different speed lanes is not the injustice that it is made out to be. There are hardly any cases of it to begin with, and any deals that do take place are just as likely to benefit consumers by allowing highly trafficked sites to accommodate their visitors. This is why FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who voted against the plan, called it “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Third, the primary function of the FCC’s plan goes far beyond the goal of net neutrality. It would use Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to label Internet service providers as public utilities. As Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wrote, “Net neutrality is now the pretext for deploying Title II to a far greater extent than anyone could have imagined just months ago.”

By labeling ISPs as public utilities, an extraordinary amount of power over the Internet, including case-by-case discretion, would be given to an unelected, unaccountable board that every lobbyist, lawyer and crony capitalist with a vested interest in the Internet will seek to manipulate.

Many foreign governments are watching these moves closely as they pursue their goal of greater international control over the Internet. The move won’t turn America into China or Cuba when it comes to government control over our online lives, but it will give federal bureaucrats a foot in the door to start unseating market forces. And never once has the government gotten a foot in the door of any industry and been satisfied to stop pushing its way in.

While our leaders can’t be bothered to fix the many institutions in America that are actually broken, they are eager to “fix” the one thing in America that works the best. With friends like government, the Internet needs no enemies.

Throughout this debate, Americans have been given a false choice: Either you are for the FCC’s plan, or you are for a lawless Internet. This represents a cynical view of free markets and a misunderstanding of government’s role in protecting them. I believe government’s role is not to regulate the actions of a few, but rather to empower all.

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