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By Jordan LaPorta
Net neutrality is one of those rare topics where it seems like everyone agrees. From major online businesses to liberal late-night comedians, people across the ideological spectrum view the Federal Communications Commissions internet regulations as a positive and necessary protection of “internet freedom.” But in reality, net neutrality is a policy that holds back technological innovation, restricts consumer choice, and makes companies a prisoner of mediocrity.
The idea of net neutrality seems like a reasonable one on the surface. In essence, net neutrality is a series of policies laid out by the FCC that prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from discriminating amongst users in the quality of connectivity service provided. The stated goal of the regulations is to ensure an equal playing field on the internet where all users are treated the same. With such a premise, who could possibly oppose net neutrality? After all, who is against equality?
While this might sound enticing, government-forced equality frequently leads to stunted growth and quality in marketplaces. While many companies could provide better and faster service that people are willing to pay a higher price for, the government says that those people cannot have it. Think about internet quality as an ice cream sundae, with enhanced features and speed being the toppings. While some people might want to pay more to put chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and a cherry on top, the server behind the counter says that people can only have regular vanilla.
Similar effects can be seen in countries with socialized medicine. While it is true that everyone in the United Kingdom has access to healthcare, those who want to pay more for surgeries deemed “elective” or likely “inconsequential” are denied the opportunity to choose their care. Look no further than the recent tragedy of Charlie Gard, a U.K. baby whose parents were told they could not seek potentially life-saving care for their child to see the harmful effects of the state limiting choice.
Net neutrality serves as a perfect example of economist Henry Hazlitt’s one rule of economics. He wrote:
“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”
In ignoring the possibilities for innovation absent of the holding back of ISPs, the American people forsake the forest for the trees when favoring such restrictive policies. In a world absent ISP restrictions, it is not hard to see how consumer choice would self-regulate the market. If a certain ISP blocked popular streaming sites because of the amount of bandwidth needed, customers would switch to one that would. A similar scenario occurred in southern states when the popular television provider DirecTv did not pick up the SEC Network upon its launch in 2014. Thousands of customers called, complained, and threatened to switch to other local cable providers, and DirecTv eventually caved.
Pragmatics aside, what the issue boils down to is the left’s fundamental misunderstanding of human rights. Leftists subscribe to the coercive positive theory of rights wherein individuals can have a claim to the labors and property of others. The internet, a college education, and healthcare all fall into such a category that American liberals continually seek to give to people for “free.” Progressives forward this theory of rights out of their obsession with equality; an obsession that trumps any concerns for individual liberty or property. They would rather have everyone equal in mediocrity than have a system where people could choose for themselves.
However, the internet — like health care — is not a right, and companies that sell access to it can change what they want for access whether people find it fair or not. Rights are intrinsic to the individual and they center on the principle of self-ownership. Speech, the right to practice religion, the right to property, the right to voluntarily enter into a contract, are all rights because they are all the fruits of one’s own labor; they do not require the coercion of another to fulfill. The only positive rights individuals hold come in the form of civil rights granted by the government in exchange for the sacrifice of the natural police power.
The internet is one of the last remaining vestiges of relative individual liberty in an increasingly regulated society. Government intrusion must be avoided at all costs.