Should the Internet be regulated like other public utilities?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is back in court to defend net neutrality from cable and telecom companies. In February, the FCC passed new regulations that changed its oversight over Internet service providers (ISPs), ensuring “that no one — whether government or corporate — should control free open access to the Internet,” as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. The FCC reclassified broadband Internet access under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, defining it as an essential public utility like landline telephone service, making it so that all legal Internet traffic is treated equally. Should it stay that way?

Joshua Steimle is an entrepreneur and technology writer whose work has appeared in Times, Forbes, and Mashable. He also is the CEO of MWI, a digital marketing firm, and is a co-director of the Hong Kong chapter of Startup Grind. He writes:

“In addition to death and taxes there are two other things that are certain in life; 1) when left on its own technology always gets better and cheaper, and 2) whenever government regulates an industry those regulations favor large corporations and hurt startup competitors. Whether or not the FCC had the authority to reclassify the Internet as a “common carrier service” is a technical legal question for attorneys and the courts to work out. However, I have little doubt whether common carrier regulations do more harm than good. I understand the intent behind net neutrality to provide fairness and a level playing field but if history is any guide then net neutrality is more likely to stifle innovation and put more money in the coffers of Comcast and Time Warner.

Free markets are the best antidote to big business. This is especially true when it comes to technology, where lawmakers struggle to keep abreast of changing trends and by the time they’ve created a law or regulation the problem that inspired it has often come and gone. The Microsoft anti-trust case is a worthy example. Who uses Internet Explorer? Microsoft doesn’t even support it anymore. But it wasn’t the anti-trust case that killed it, it was competition from Firefox.

Monopolies in technology are rare and short-lived in a free market. Where they have any staying power it’s usually due to government interference, as is the case with ISPs. Large ISPs currently receive favors from governments large and small. Just go try and start an ISP and you’ll see how difficult it is, not just because it’s hard to start any business, but because of the regulatory and legal hurdles you face. If anything, we should have a government commission examining what regulations are impeding competition between ISPs and working to remove them so the free market can take over. Our current state of affairs is, in many ways, a government created problem the government is trying to fix with more of what caused the problem in the first place.

But even with the advantages certain ISPs have, it won’t last. Consumers want affordable high speed wireless Internet that’s always on, no matter where they go, and the technology already exists to deliver it–it’s just a matter of rolling it out which will take several years. Companies like Google, Facebook, and other yet to be created will find ways to subsidize their mainline businesses by providing high speed Internet access for free, and despite the future staring them in the face providers like Comcast will be caught off guard just as much as record companies were surprised by Napster. Then it will be the turn of Google, Facebook, and whatever other Internet providers exist to be surprised by the next generation of companies after them. Government may slow down innovation with its regulations, but innovation won’t be stopped and one way or another consumers will end up with faster and cheaper Internet. It can be difficult to imagine because we don’t know the details, but it’s predictably inevitable.”

Today’s Question: Should the Internet be regulated like other public utilities?

  • Gary F

    No, the government doesn’t need to get involved. The high tech industry is moving so fast the government would just get in the way. Companies come and go, remember AOL? Netscape? Norton?

    We need less government, not more government.

  • Yanotha Twangai

    Well, the way this question was presented certainly doesn’t fit the accusation by right-wingers that MPR has a liberal bias. One paltry sound bite from the head of the FCC and a lengthy quotation from a free-market ideologue are given as the background. (I have trouble taking seriously anyone who believes things like “Free markets are the best antidote to big business.”)

    Yes, the Internet should be regulated like other public utilities, because that is what it has become.

    • whitedoggie44

      1996 Revision of the Communications Act passed by congress: It is U.S. policy for the internet to be “unfettered by Federal or State regulation”. Nothing more than a power grab by the executive branch as Obama mowed over a independent agency in violation of the separation of powers.

      • Yanotha Twangai

        The question was whether it should be done, not whether it was being done correctly. If the courts decide the FCC overstepped its authority under the law, then the law should be changed.

        • whitedoggie44

          This, of course, is the prerogative of congress and not the executive branch. My concern is this president has no limits and continues to move the U.S. toward the banana republic model of executive authority. This is a bad precedent whether a democrat or republican wins the next election.

          • AbdiAhman

            White doggie is correct..the laws are there but Obama never or rarely follows them if it doesn’t fit his about a facist President..ouch.

          • Yanotha Twangai

            Does that “ouch” come from the poke your conscience gives you when you distort facts like that?

          • AbdiAhman

            Seriously? You are naive or uninformed as to Obama’s frequent ignoring of laws. e.g., Sanctuary cities are allowed to continue violating the immigration laws, releasing 134,000 illegals with_ with_ criminal records where over 640 had records of murder and rape. If you have family, you would care about the safety issues as a result of them on the streets, etc. etc.

          • Yanotha Twangai

            Seriously. Look, I don’t approve of everything Obama has done, but not by any stretch is he the evil monster you seem to think he is. Your comments are paranoid, delusional and reactionary.

  • whitedoggie44

    Absolutely no and it is another power grab by our clueless president. There is no indication the FCC has the authority to reclassify internet providers as “phone Companies.” I would hope the courts hand Obama another defeat similar to his overreach in environmental regulations.

  • Jay_Teigh

    The administration wants large Internet service providers to stop abusing content creators and customers by slowing or blocking their Internet communications. The DC court told the FCC that if it wants to do this, then it has to put these companies under regulation as “common carriers” (they can’t discriminate between customers). That’s a no-brainer. Yes, the big companies are utilities. Smaller ones should be able to comply if the FCC will let them engage in “reasonable network management” (okay, that IS a problem – the FCC will need to give more exemptions to small companies).

    Of course the large ISPs, such as Comcast and Verizon, absolutely hate the proposal to regulate them because it will force them to – oh, wait – to do exactly the same things Verizon and other telcos and wireless companies have had to do for years, for voice communications: protect customers’ billing information privacy, keep rates reasonable and fair, etc.

    The fact you object to keeping telcos under these rules really makes me wonder about your motives.

    It’s high time other big ISPs came under these rules, which don’t let them slow down your Internet speeds or negligently leave your personal info on unprotected servers. Not rocket science.

    As for smaller companies, i feel for them, and think the FCC should offer more small business exemptions without requiring them to compile reams of information to prove they’re small. But maybe that’s next.

  • John Dilligaf

    Why were comments already closed on the NSA question that appears just after this one? Is it finally the end of Today’s Question?

  • AbdiAhman

    Comments were closed early for “NSA tacking” question because too many truths made it outside the MPR narrative; i.e., “say nothing negative about the White House” and also, notice the lack of liberal spin and Sue DeMin’s comment that argued for secrecy just as the IRS got away with harassing conservative 504 c applications through secrecy of their actions for a long time. Our great liberalized President orders no checks on Facebook or Twitter or to follow any Islamist groups out of ” privacy” and that dear friends is how SanBernadino massacre happened, as well as the other four Islamist radical attacks in our country. No wonder Trump rises as he has, the public is fed up and they would even take him over Hillary since she helped cause the problem.

  • Jennifer Campbell Roach

    Although I support the initial cause of BLM, I now feel like they are picking poor martyrs and they are causing separation instead of brining people together for a common cause. With that said, even if I 100% supported the cause, you have to respect the MOA privacy rights as well. They are a business and need to ensure the livelihood of their clients, not protestors. Like all protesters that break the law, they should be arrested on trespassing charges and released. That’s the chance you take when you protest and break the law! MLK went to jail, Gandhi
    went to jail…it’s what happens.