The Net Neutrality debate was broadcast to a huge new audience last week when John Oliver called on his viewers to tell the FCC to keep the Internet free and open. Right now, the FCC is deciding whether or not to place the Internet under Title II regulations, which would place it under greater government jurisdiction and classify it as a utility. However, the debate is more complicated than defenders of freedom against greedy monopolistic cable giants. Christopher Yoo recently published a report, which compares the US to the European system, which treats the Internet as a utility. His findings call into question the value of reclassifying in internet, in the name of internet freedom.
1. There are stats more relevant statistics than download speed.
Yes, Internet speed is an important factor in comparing which model- utility or facility- is better. Europe, which regulates the Internet more like a utility than the US, does have higher average download speeds. However, the US infrastructure reaches more people than European structures. In rural areas, the US reached 82% coverage with high speed networks, while Europe averaged only 54%. Europe’s download speeds are coming only from select cities, whereas the United States provides internet to a far wider spread of its population. The United states also leads in other measurements of internet quality such as latency, packet loss, and efficiency.
2. U.S. Investment is still on the rise.
Currently, the US has much a higher investment per household than countries that treat the Internet as a utility, as it would be treated under the proposed Title II reform. Should the FCC decide to regulate the Internet like a utility, cable companies would be dissuaded from investing in better, faster networks. One thing that everyone agrees on is that America should continue to improve its broadband, wireless, and fiber networks. This responsibility largely falls on cable companies and their investors, and providing huge disincentives for them to do so will slow down progress on America’s currently impressive and rapidly improving network.
3. The US price system works.
Many might point to the much higher cost of US Internet as compared to European prices. However, in his report comparing the US and Europe, Yoo cautions that the American pricing system is actually more efficient. While US Internet is more expensive on average, across all cable packages, it is only because they charge higher prices for greater speed. The United States actually has lower cost for internet under 12Mbps, as shown on page 20 of the report.
4. Classifying the Internet under Title II wouldn’t make it free and open.
Title II was created decades ago to address phone lines and lumping something as complex and evolving as the internet under a large and legally daunting set of regulations could do more harm than good. Right now, cable monoliths are the public enemy, but many small-government and libertarian leaning advocates of net neutrality would more than likely feel less comfortable if they knew that the federal government now had more control over pricing, infrastructure, and ownership of the internet. What the Internet needs is a careful, case-by-case examination to ensure that people have the ability to access content on the Internet. Market solutions, FTC reviews, and specific court cases would do a better job of preventing undesirable actions against consumers than an antiquated classification system not designed for the complexities of the internet, which wouldn’t necessarily even ensure neutrality. Blair Levin, who has watched the issue for over a decade, said “The proponents of title II authority exaggerate what it can do.” at a conference at the Aspen Institute. It is not even clear that placing it under title two would ensure that the internet would be free from fast lanes or other discrimination.
A free and open Internet should be a priority going forward, and consumers do need to be wary of monopolies or attempts to limit access to consumers or web developers. However, placing the Internet under a massive set of government regulations that was designed for a completely different system is not a step forward.