Why Net Neutrality Matters To All Of Us

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Tim Wu has shown up on these pages exactly once in the past. Today marks #2 with a link to his op-ed The ‘Fix’ for Net Neutrality That Consumers Don’t Need, which helps strengthen the case we tried to make in the first post about him. He is a gifted explainer. This seemingly innocuous policy issue, which might otherwise get ignored and thereby also allow another gain of the wrong type to the wrong people, is suddenly clearly a very big deal thanks to Mr. Wu:

Netflix and Amazon have been nominated for hundreds of Emmys and Golden Globe awards in recent years, and that is a testament to both the quality of those companies and the transformation of television. But some of the credit is also due to “net neutrality,” the legal regime that nurtured and protected the open internet and streaming TV in the first place.

Streaming, after all, is a cheaper and better form of television. For that reason, it is something the cable industry would not have allowed to thrive had it been left to its own devices. Fortunately, net neutrality rules prevented cable companies from killing or interfering with streaming television during its infancy.

You might think it unwise, therefore, to question a policy that has yielded both lower prices and good television. But President Trump’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, on Wednesday announced plans to eliminate net neutrality (technically, make it “voluntary”) despite its popularity, record of success and acceptance by most of the industry.

His proposal is of dubious legality. But should it succeed, the only real winners will be the cable and phone industries, which will gain yet another way to raise prices for everyone. The proposal is the epitome of senseless government action and sharply out of step with Mr. Trump’s populist mandate. Did Trump voters really vote for higher cable bills?

In analyzing the attack on net neutrality, one looks in vain for the problem that needs to be fixed. Net neutrality refers to rules intended to ensure that broadband providers cannot block content or provide faster delivery to companies that pay more. The policy was put in place in the George W. Bush administration, where it enjoyed bipartisan support. In the years since, it has sheltered bloggers, nonprofit organizations like Wikipedia, smaller tech companies, TV and music streamers, and entrepreneurs from being throttled by providers like AT&T and Verizon that own the “pipes.”

The policy’s contributions are not just cultural but also economic: Television has been revitalized, and waves of successful internet start-ups have returned America’s high-tech industry to unquestioned global leadership. Net neutrality has been among the most effective economic policies of the 21st century.

The idea of killing net neutrality certainly has nothing to do with voters or majority will. Instead, the proposal, like Mr. Pai’s earlier gutting of privacy protections for cable customers, is at war with the economic populism that voters claimed they wanted and that Mr. Trump promised last year…

Read the whole op-ed here.

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