Opinion: FCC Rules Would Stifle Internet's Success
But that's what could be in store for consumers if the Federal Communications Commission goes ahead with new Internet regulations that would prevent network operators from offering enhancements that make premium services operate more smoothly.
If you're like most people, you probably don't think too hard about the mechanics of the Internet or other technologies that we've gotten used to in recent years. You just want them to work. Behind the scenes, though, your Internet Service Provider uses a lot of engineering and management so you can do what you want when online.
OPPOSING VIEW: Net neutrality rules will protect the openness that has always been the hallmark of the Internet, says Timothy Karr.
The fact is that different services have different requirements in order to work properly. Activities like online videos or remote medical monitoring are easily disrupted by tiny delays -- often measured in milliseconds -- that keep them from working properly. Others, like e-mail, tolerate delays with little problem.
To ensure the best performance possible, network operators need the flexibility to work with the providers of content, software developers, creators of online games, and other Internet-related businesses and services. But proposed Internet regulations under consideration at the FCC would greatly limit such collaboration.
Supporters of Internet regulations, typically advocated to ensure "network neutrality," say regulations are needed to make sure that consumers can go to whatever Web site they want. But when was the last time that your Internet provider blocked you from any activity you wanted to perform online? Chances are you've never had that problem. And if it occurred, the FCC already has the authority to step in quickly and clear things up.
As it happens, the FCC has already put in place four principles of Internet rights that entitle consumers to visit any legal Web site of their choice, run the applications they enjoy, with the devices they choose -- and all of this within a competitive marketplace. These principles have worked well, protecting consumers while also allowing Internet innovators the freedom to deliver an astonishing array of new online services and technologies without excess government interference. For most of us, the way we use the Internet today is vastly more rewarding and exciting than just five years ago.
What would the new Internet regulations do? Advocates of new rules say they want every "bit" of Internet data treated equally, to make sure that service providers don't decide to favor one activity over another. They say network infrastructure should be made up of so-called "dumb pipes" that just deliver every piece of data in the order in which it was received.
That may seem fair when you first hear it. But, on reflection, a bit of thoughtful prioritization by smart technologies makes more sense. Just as cars pull to the side of the road to let an ambulance pass, don't we want medical images or time-sensitive financial transactions to get through quickly when the Internet is congested?
Or, wouldn't you like the ability to set priorities on your own computer, such as opting for a speedier download of a movie or uninterrupted transmission of a ball game so long as it doesn't interfere with what your neighbor is doing online? Internet engineers are working to make those types of choices available. but the proposed new regulation could get in the way.
Under current rules, the Internet has moved quickly from a curiosity to something that most of us have in our home; and the things we can do with it have grown in almost unimaginable ways.
Why would we want to mess with that success by enacting new rules that will slow new innovation in order to fix theoretical problems that don't exist and could be dealt with under existing FCC authority?
Stephen Pociask is president of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit education and research institute. He has extensive experience within the telecommunications space, and has conducted studies for government agencies and independent nonprofit think-tanks.