July 17, 2017
High-speed Internet access, or broadband, has the potential to empower an entire generation or two with access to information and communication abilities unknown as little as ten years ago. One only needs to watch the now dated film “You’ve Got Mail” to chuckle at the dial-up modem tones of not so long ago.
Today, it is virtually impossible to apply for corporate employment without effective Internet connectivity. Just as importantly, with a powerful plan and an effective digital connection, one can raise capital, start a business, immediately reach a worldwide customer base — and disrupt an entire industry.
Facebook, eBay, Etsy, and now the likes of Blue Apron are testaments to the power of effective Internet access. Effective connectivity enhances productivity across industries, promotes innovation and produces meaningful employment.
But the success of the new American experiment depends on more than improved broadband speeds. It also also requires an open Internet—including enforceable net neutrality rules that ensure big cable and telephone companies can’t discriminate with respect to Internet access.
We should all be deeply concerned with the FCC’s intention to undo the existing legal framework. Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market. Incumbents could price less affluent consumers out of the market for high-speed access – reverting them to service reminiscent of that in “You’ve Got Mail.” They could impede traffic to favor their own services or established competitors. Or, they could impose new “tolls” on businesses competing with entrenched users, inhibiting consumer choice.
Consumers should not be priced out of effective Internet access. Companies should be able to compete with incumbents on the quality of our products and services, not on their ability to pay tolls to Internet access providers. Fortunately, in 2015 the Federal Communications Commission put in place net neutrality rules that not only prohibit certain harmful practices, but also allow the Commission to develop and enforce rules to address new forms of discrimination. The FCC now plans to undo these rules and proposes to implement a system of minimum voluntary commitments that would give a green light for Internet access providers to discriminate in unforeseen ways.
Rather than dismantling the existing regulatory balance, the FCC should focus on implementing policies that would promote a stronger Internet for everyone. The removal of unnecessary barriers to the construction of new networks, which would foster increased competition and faster, more affordable, open Internet access is a laudatory goal.
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