DEBATE: Following the ‘Day of Action’ in support of net neutrality, should the US Congress reconsider the move to scrap it?
YES – StJohn Deakins, founder of CitizenMe.
This is economics 101. Infrastructure and service companies have very different financial models. There’s a rich history of infrastructure firms attempting to raise profits by expanding into services. They then use their gatekeeper position to unfairly compete with pure play service businesses. As a result, we get more expensive services of lower quality and with less choice. Imagine if all our public highways were toll-roads owned by Ford Motor. How long would it be until Ford offered exclusive fast lane access and toll-discounts to drivers of Ford cars? Without regulation, infrastructure companies become anti-free market monopolies. The UN now classifies internet access as a human right. Its importance is growing exponentially. In the next decade we’ll see the arrival of AI assisted healthcare, autonomous cars and augmented reality. These new services will become intricately intertwined with what we do and who we are. We are about to witness unimaginable change. It’s up to us to ensure that all the effects are positive. An essential first step is to make a clear and universal commitment to net neutrality.
NO – Harold Furchtgott-Roth, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for the Economics of the Internet
From 1995 to 2010, few American politicians could be elected without uttering the magic incantation: don’t regulate the internet. Competition ensued, diffusing new internet technologies and applications to every corner of the earth and to practically every person, rich and poor. Now some of the largest corporations in the world seek to have the American government regulate their potential competitors on the internet. They call it “network neutrality” – a coded phrase meaning using the power of the American government to harm one set of firms and help another. Only a politician would call it neutrality. Consumers should care. Investors will shy away from the newly regulated services, reducing the quality. Many innovative services will never develop. Faster services from just your favorite websites are not allowed. Blocking recruitment sites for so-called Islamic State and videos on manufacturing homemade bombs violate net neutrality. The internet works well without further government regulation. Ordinary consumers do not need net neutrality. Only big companies do.