And while many factors have driven the growth of the Internet, the profit motive has been among the most important. Between 80 and 90 percent of the costs of providing broadband service are fixed costs. Expanding service requires significant upfront investment. By adding to regulatory uncertainty, net neutrality will deter additional infrastructure investment as providers fear being unable to recoup those costs. This will hinder innovation and expanded access.
Additionally, the prohibition on charging content providers for delivery, and discouraging priority pricing for those who would like to pay for a special fast-lane on the Internet highway, will shift costs to consumers and businesses. This means that users will be paying more for services that are less tailored to their actual needs and desires.
The FCC and proponents of net neutrality rules rightly argue that an open Internet encourages investment and innovation, and even Genachowski acknowledges that some regulation “will stifle innovation, investment and growth.” The question we are faced with, however, is not whether we want an open Internet (which we already have), but whether we want an Internet regulated by consumer demands and the market pressures of innovation in technology, or an Internet regulated by government.
Left-leaning groups, such as the feminist National Organization for Women, argue that government can and should preserve the open Internet through regulation, because otherwise corporations may act as censors, favoring supporting viewpoints over others. Women, they say, especially benefit from net neutrality because the open Internet provides them with information about their status, threats to their rights, and opportunities for advancement.
A survey of how the Internet functions in reality, however, reveals that the biggest threats to free speech and political organizing are governments, not private actors. Companies who restrict access to certain sites face competition for customers. Customers unhappy with the restrictions flow to more open providers. Compare that to what happens in China, where Internet censorship is the most stringent in the world. When governments decide to exercise censorship, citizens’ only outlet is to escape into the underground to share forbidden information.
Internet users do face a very real threat. It doesn't come from the private broadband providers who may someday conspire to control our access to innovation. The real threat is government regulation which will stifle investment and innovation, raise costs for consumers and businesses, and increase the potential for government censorship of the Internet. Why would we want to take that risk?
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