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Net Neutrality – The Pot-holed Road to Nowhere

If you have been following the Net Neutrality drama that started at the FCC and has now spread to the courts and Congress, you may find yourself emotionally attached to one side of the argument. Pro-Neutrality observers side against the large telecommunication conglomerates that control large portions of the Internet and can identify with the common man wanting unhindered Internet. Others do not like government meddling and want the FCC and Congress to keep their hands off especially when nothing seems to be broken.

Setting emotions and biases aside, one must recognize that both sides have good arguments. The rules passed by the FCC do seem to be carefully crafted. Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operate in a near monopolistic environment which creates the opportunity for abuse. ISPs could hamper the traffic of rivals and effectively squash any innovation that they oppose.

On the other hand, there is a lack of any significant detrimental network management practices affecting the Internet experience. From personal experience, my company’s Hosted PBX service, which competes with the services of many large ISPs, has thrived without any regulation whatsoever. In fact, the Internet has developed to where it is today without any Net Neutrality rules. No one has been able to argue that the Internet would be better if these rules were in place at any point in the past.

Both sides have their problems, as well. The federal government has an unmistakable knack for making a mess of anything it touches. On the flip side, a member of the United States Congress, sounding eerily similar to a Verizon lawyer, can make the least judgmental shift uncomfortably in their seat.

After reading dozens of opinions both for and against Net Neutrality and much careful consideration, I have come to the opinion that there is no right answer. The whole debate is a road covered with teeth-rattling, bone-jarring pot holes that leads to nowhere.

Len Grace seems to agree. In his article Abandon Net Neutrality Rules and Focus on Broadband Proliferation, he says “the FCC continues to go down a dead-end road with Net Neutrality rules which increases distraction and turmoil within the telecommunications industry.” In fact, the Net Neutrality argument may be distracting the FCC from a more worthwhile objective of increasing broadband competition and broadband access to all Americans.

Increased broadband access will benefit all Americans, commercially and privately. That is obvious. Increased broadband access and competition should have another impact. If Internet consumers have multiple ISP choices, will they be as likely to choose an ISP that is blocking, slowing down or manipulating Internet traffic? If prices and plans are equal, the answer is probably not. In other words, free market forces can regulate Net Neutrality if healthy competition is in place.

Right or wrong, the FCC started the Net Neutrality debate and it is getting a lot of time, attention and money from both public and private interests. The debate may last for months if not years creating an extended period of uncertainty. Uncertainty in broadband regulation will not encourage broadband investment. Broadband regulation will not likely encourage it, either. Regardless, the argument has become a distracting spectacle. Instead, what if the debate in Congress with guidance from the FCC was centered on how to increase broadband access and availability through public and private investment in these economically challenging times? That could foster healthy broadband competition, help secure America’s competitiveness and would be positive, forward-thinking leadership.

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