The Internet is the most marvelous and open information highway humanity has yet experienced. You are likely reading this column on a screen on your laptop, desktop, or mobile handheld device. To reach you, this piece traveled over a broadband network that connects this web site's server to your device. If you are in the United States, the network you are using is a part of an overall Internet infrastructure that is owned and managed by more than 1500 providers.
Take a moment and marvel at the speed and quality with which this piece and many other net applications--from social networks to streaming video to voice services--travel to your device. And then ask yourself why government would want to meddle with this great manifestation of human ability and creative cooperation.
On December 21st, while most of us were eagerly awaiting the holidays, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) voted to significantly change how the internet operates by imposing net neutrality rules on the broadband providers who connect you and me to the World Wide Web. Net neutrality rules refer to certain government regulation of broadband providers. The FCC justifies this unprecedented step of issuing rules to govern the network management of broadband providers as necessary to preemptively “protect” consumers from potential future discrimination by Internet providers.
Far from a demonstration of government's ability to protect its citizenry, the FCC’s decision illustrates the dangers of unchecked government. Regulators, such as FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, are appointed by the President and enjoy the jurisdictional authority delegated to them by Congress. Not only are they outside of the reach of voters, they can be disdainful of Congress and the judiciary. In passing these net neutrality rules, for example, this FCC acted in defiance of a previous congressional decision rejecting a net neutrality amendment and a recent court ruling specifying that the FCC lacked the authority to regulate network management.
The process that lead to these new rules should alarm Americans who still believe in a government with limited power that is accountable to voters. They should be equally alarmed by the rules' content. Mandates requiring transparency and outlawing blocking and discrimination may sound reasonable, but they strip providers of the ability to manage their services and limit their potential to make a profit.