In a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a group of 13 organizations has called on legislators to avoid mandating “network neutrality,” a doctrine that would prohibit carriers from asking Web-based content and applications providers to pay higher prices for the management and optimization of bandwidth-intensive material such as high-definition movies and massive multiplayer games.
Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Internet, in early May introduced legislation that would enforce network neutrality. Markey voiced the fear that without legal safeguards, carriers might cut off consumer access to competing Web sites and services.
The bill has the backing of some grassroots Internet user groups and also has drawn support from large corporations, such as search engine giant Google and e-commerce pioneer Amazon.com, both of which rely heavily on cheap access to large amounts of bandwidth and would stand to incur higher costs without a network neutrality provision.
Opponents of network neutrality say access fears are unfounded, as no carrier has yet attempted to block a legitimate Web site, and enforcement measures exist for those that might attempt to do so. In addition, they warn that by prohibiting tiered pricing scales for quality of service, network neutrality would slow the introduction of advanced services–because it would forbid the use of basic economics to manage the supply and demand of the chunks of bandwidth these services would use.
“The legislation is deceptively named ‘net neutrality,'” the letter reads. “However, the only thing ‘neutral’ about this legislation is how it will neutralize the fast pace of growth and opportunity represented by advanced communication services like high speed access. In essence, Congress is asking the consumer to move over in order to let bureaucrats drive the future of the Internet.
“It is a fact that we all know too well: Once government is free to dictate price, content, and speed for the Internet, Congress will find a way to tax products, services and require providers to collect government mandated fees just for the ‘privilege’ of using the technology. While supporters of net neutrality legislation argue their position with no basis of fact–a solution in search of a problem–history has taught us well that when the government attempts to regulate commerce, it is the consumer who ultimately pays.”
The letter continues, “Regulating the Internet today is no different than if Congress passed laws aimed at limiting the horsepower, engine design, and cost of Henry Ford’s Model A at the turn of the century out of concern that future car manufacturers might be unfairly impacted by Ford’s work. Regulations like that wouldn’t have made sense then. It certainly doesn’t make sense now.
“We encourage members of Congress to ignore the cries of Luddites who want us to believe that the sky is falling and to pass fear-driven–not fact-based–laws regulating the Internet. We urge support for those who know that an Internet free of regulation will clearly and unambiguously deliver the advanced services and technologies that consumers want and deserve at a cost they can afford.”
The letter is signed by representatives of FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Media Freedom Project, Center for Individual Freedom, Americans for Prosperity, Free Enterprise Fund, Iowa Association of Scholars, Frontiers of Freedom, Institute for Liberty, Maine Heritage Policy Center, Citizen Outreach, and the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
Steven Titch ([email protected]) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of IT&T News.