Last week Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, published an op-ed piece for Wired which laid out his strategy to “ensure net neutrality” by treating the Internet as a public utility and applying the same types of regulations that are used for phone and electric companies. Many groups favor the move because of the promise of reining in irresponsible Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Net neutrality promises to protect Internet users by barring ISPs from limiting use of the Internet or charging extra fees for streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.
There is a real problem, to be sure. ISPs have used a method called “choking” to limit the speeds of streaming services and downloads. By identifying the addresses of the services that use large amounts of bandwidth and slowing down the connections to those services, they have made them practically unusable.
It is bad business and it inconveniences Internet users. But is government regulation the answer to the problem? Constitutionalists have noted that in this case the antidote is worse than the poison: granting government the ability to regulate the Internet will grant government control of the Internet.
At least one FCC commissioner sees the newly proposed regulations as a real threat to the liberty of Internet users. Commissioner Ajit Pai tweeted a picture of himself (right) holding the plan with a picture of President Obama in the background. His tweet read, “Here is President Obama’s 332-page plan to regulate the Internet. I wish the public could see what’s inside.” He also issued a press release listing several points that call the 332-page secret document into question. His release begins by setting the tone in clear, bold language: “The American people are being misled about President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet. Last week’s carefully stage-managed rollout was designed to downplay the plan’s massive intrusion into the Internet economy and to shield many critical details from the public. Indeed, Chairman Wheeler has made it clear that he will not release the document to the public even though federal law authorizes him to do so.” Pai then lays out, point by point, why this is bad news for all who value Internet freedom.