Internet Freedom Act anything but
August 6, 2009
The day before they slipped out of Washington for the August recess, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, which would give the deceptively benign ideal of "net neutrality" the force of law.
Giving legal heft to that concept would significantly change the nature of the Internet as we know it - for the worse.
Roughly defined, net neutrality means Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all Web traffic, content and customers the same. Any "discrimination," net neutrality advocates say, violates our "right" to "Internet freedom."
A typical horror story involves an ISP, at peak usage hours, gently slowing down a tiny number of bandwidth hogs so the vast majority of its customers can surf the Web and send e-mails at the speed they expect.
The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 is poorly named because it would do nothing to preserve freedom. HR 3458 would strip ISPs of the right to manage traffic on the networks they have spent billions to build, market and manage. In their place would emerge a cadre of detached government bureaucrats - hardly an improvement on the status quo.
Today, if a broadband customer does not approve of the way an ISP manages Web traffic, he can readily switch to a competitor more to his liking. ISPs have an enormous financial incentive to retain existing customers and attract new ones, so the free market encourages best practices.
But under HR 3458, if a broadband customer is not satisfied, what near-instant recourse will he have? None - after the government forces every ISP to operate "equally" by replacing market-based incentives with bureaucratic mandates. This would ensure an inevitable slide to "equally" shoddy service.
Let's be clear: Net neutrality advocates want the government, not the public, to control the fate of the Internet. The ordered chaos of market forces may scare those who don't understand it. But the market is efficient, quickly responsive to the needs and wants of consumers, and - in the proper sense of the word - free.
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