I'm only going to say "net neutrality" once, because one lie per column is my limit. Calling the FCC's vote next week those two n-words is like calling transfer payments "welfare". Or military spending "defense". Maybe those words aren't direct deceptions, but they're definitely on the "d" spectrum. Somewhere between delusional and dishonest.
As of this writing, the FCC is planning today to vote on repealing the "Title II" internet regulatory regime. It will pass. The vote will be challenged in court. The challenge will fail, under a legal doctrine known as Chevron Deference (Google it, I'll wait). Then the Chicken Littles of the world will find they're wrong: The internet sky will not fall. Neither will the clouds.
Title II refers to part of the Telecommunications Act of 1934 (83 years ago, that's not a typo). should give you pause. How can a law written before the invention of the Slinky possibly the right policy tool for the internet? The mind boggles.
How far back will FCC repeal of Title II regulation take us? To dial-up modems? Mainframes? Heaven forbid, to a world with no Slinkys? Actually no. We'll find ourselves hurled all the way back to the technologically primitive era of 2015, when the FCC first adopted Title II authority. "The Force Awakens" premiered back then. I think it's still playing in some theaters.
Yes, Title II repeal means undoing an action of a previous administration. I did not vote for the President, but for once I have to agree with his supporters: Elections have consequences. Good thing those consequences aren't always awful. Election clouds can have silver linings.
Repeal of Title II authority isn't about equal access, or censorship, or internet service providers (ISPs) deciding what you can or can't watch. It's about one thing: Pricing. It's about the extent to which ISPs can offer different pricing models based on economic reality.
Critics of the FCC do have a semi-valid point about ISP monopoly power. The big ISPs are often content providers themselves, and could in theory charge more or even block content from competitors. In a competitive market, customers would respond by switching to a different ISP. But in many markets consumers have little choice, so in theory they would be stuck.
But in practice, the reality is very different. There are plenty of constraints that prevent monopolists from exercising monopoly power, including consumer outrage and bad publicity. Furthermore, no exercise of monopoly power is permanent. Ask yourself this: If you knew an industry could wield monopoly power for only a day before market competition broke it would you still think regulation was justified? I'm betting not. How about a week? A month? A year? A decade?
Markets are dynamic things. When they are permitted to function without government interference, no exercise of monopoly power lasts. Buggy whip monopolies are long gone. Taxi monopolies yield to Uber. A barrel of crude oil costs half of what it did 30 years ago, and someday crude itself will be worthless. Back in the 1990s, everybody knew that cable TV and wired internet were "natural" monopolies. Until wireless technology came along.
But let's suppose you, like most people, believe any exercise of monopoly power is always wrong, whether for three minutes or three decades. It turns out that for the past 130 years, the federal government has had a tool made just for you: Antitrust policy.
Unlike the FCC, the Federal Trade Commission has a Congressionally authorized role to investigate and correct abuses of monopoly power. There is no need for FCC authority over ISP behavior because the FTC already has it. In spades.
The truth is we just do not know what kind of economic arrangements are the future of the internet. We don't know what new technologies will be invented, what consumer preferences will be, how things will shake out with wireless versus wired versus something else, what new business models will be developed, or what new features entrepreneurs will come up with.
We do know the costs of regulation will show up as inventions never patented, content not created, and ways of making things better and cheaper no one got the chance to discover. The fact that those costs aren't easily measured doesn't make them any less real.
Title II repeal is going to happen, and it will be a good thing. It will be even better when all of us who are passionate about the internet (who isn't?) understand that the imperfections of markets are way more likely to give us better results than the imperfections of regulation. When the FCC repeals Title II authority, we should all move forward with that in mind.
Dr. Fagin is Senior Fellow in Technology at the Independence Institute in Denver, and Professor of Computer Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. His views are his alone. In 1996, Dr Fagin received the ACLU National Civil Liberties Award, for his role in the Supreme Court case that established fundamental First Amendment protections for the internet. Readers can contact Dr. Fagin at firstname.lastname@example.org.