NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Regulating the Internet

February 24, 2011

The lack of government mandates has made the Internet "the greatest deregulatory success story of all time," a "sort of libertarian heaven."  But the actions of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski suggest that things may be about to change.  Genachowski has made it his mission to plant the seeds of government control within the core of the Internet -- all under the guise of "preserving Internet freedom," says Peter Suderman, associate editor of Reason Magazine.

Like so many political slogans, Internet freedom sounds great.   But what does it mean in practice?  For Genachowski and the rest of the Obama administration, it's a feel-good euphemism for the techie idea known as "net neutrality."

  • At its most basic, net neutrality is the belief that all bits and bytes that travel over the Internet should be treated equally: no discrimination, no paid prioritization, just first-come-first-served access for everyone all the time.
  • The applied theory of net neutrality is that routers -- the traffic management devices that send packets of information from one computer or server to the next -- should treat each piece of information like every other piece, be it an e-mail message, a video or a game.
  • This is not a bad idea; indeed, it is largely how the Internet works already.
  • But net neutrality advocates warn that without federal intervention, corporate giants won't leave it this way for long; they will begin setting up pricey, priority-traffic toll roads across the Web.

The Internet has succeeded in the absence of regulations, but Genachowski has managed to plant regulatory roots within the Net.  On December 21, 2010, the FCC voted 3-2 to pass the first enforceable net neutrality regulations.  The Internet, after luxuriating in lawless freedom, finally has its own cop, says Suderman.

Source: Peter Suderman, "Internet Cop," Reason Magazine, March 2011.

For text:    


Browse more articles on Government Issues