On Thursday, February 17th, the House passed an amendment to the annual funding bill which cuts the legs from under the ever-expanding Federal Communications Commission, putting a temporary stop to its attempt to gain even more regulatory power. The bill, HR 1, states that no public funds are to be used in the enforcement and enactment of the FCC’s new ‘net neutrality’ regulations.
The FCC voted in December to implement a set of ‘net neutrality’ rules which could mark the first step towards forever changing the Internet. The rules would, among a host of other things, prohibit wired Internet service providers from practicing a hypothetical phenomenon known as throttling, which is the act of blocking or controlling the speed of your Internet service.
When we talk about defunding the FCC and defunding net neutrality, it’s really a case of “defund or be defunded.” The large-scale economic impacts of regulation would affect one of the only prosperous sectors of our economy. Indeed, one study from NYU concluded that net neutrality would cost Americans 500,000 jobs and $62 billion over the next five years. Sound like a lot to pay for a policy whose advocates have yet to demonstrate any significant harm in the status quo? It is.
If consumers aren’t yet worried about net neutrality, they should look to what’s happening in Norway. The Norwegian government made equal access to information at equal speed something of a basic human right. They’ve now started to pay the price. Telenor, the country’s largest Internet service provider has, just a year after voluntarily implementing net neutrality policies, now decided to charge large content providers. The cost is just far too great for them.
But for Telenor, just as it would be here in the U.S., without the money generated from charging content providers like Google, YouTube or Hulu, investment cannot be made in improving infrastructure–unless, of course, prices go up. Without improved infrastructure, more and more content means more and more problems and less and less that can be done about it.
Of course a company like Google, one of the largest bandwidth hogs, will continue to vocally support net neutrality. The policy essentially means they can make heavier and heavier products and deflect the burden of paying for it—it’s as if retailers could ship a keychain or a couch for the same price, with the shipping companies subsidizing the cost. It takes companies like Telenor and brave legislators to explain the truth.
Zack Christenson is a Chicago-based digital strategist who writes on tech policy