Given the sheer number of aggressive regulatory assaults on the free economy coming out of Washington lately, it is understandable if one is missed, such as the power grab being undertaken by the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC’s relentless effort to regulate the Internet may prove to be one of the Obama administration’s most damaging efforts yet to push the free economy aside and place this stunningly successful market under political control.
Responding to a decadelong campaign by left-wing “media reform” advocates and Silicon Valley rent-seekers, the FCC is dangerously close to pinning down Internet-service providers with wildly inappropriate monopoly regulations. This is being done in the name of giving us what we already have — a free and open Internet.
Over the past decade, the tech left has peddled this “crisis” unless the government replaces market controls over the Internet with political control. Despite the scare tactic of the left, the market and a light regulatory touch by the FCC has given the country amazing Internet service and speeds. Today, 87 percent of the United States uses the Internet, compared with just 14 percent in 1995. Nearly 96 percent of Americans have the choice of at least one wired, infrastructure-based broadband provider. Fully 88 percent have two or more choices, and 99 percent of Americans can choose at least one wireless broadband provider. This growth was made possible with more than $1.2 trillion of private investment in advanced wired and wireless broadband networks. Even in a down economy, more than $60 billion a year is poured into cable, fiber, satellite, phone, and fixed and mobile wireless broadband networks. These investments have resulted in more choices of exceedingly faster speeds and more cost-effective services than they had 10 years ago. With each passing year, Internet service and speed gets better.
History shows us that a government regulatory agency could not have possibly accomplished that task. Look at the services provided by government-granted and government-regulated monopolies. Regulated phone service can’t even come close to competing with unregulated phone services. Electric grids, roads, water and sewer systems are far behind in innovation. In fact, they are mostly stagnant — even deteriorating — as the politicians who control them blame others for their problems and demand more money.
What the left does not understand about market economics is that regulation comes in many forms. Government regulation is only one form of regulation. Businesses are more efficiently “regulated” by competitors and by consumers who are free to choose those competitors.
All those ads on radio, television and in the mail trying to get us to switch Internet-service providers is solid proof that the entire Internet ecosystem is focused on winning customers — us.
Judging from the stunning success of the Internet services over the past decade, it should occur to any fair-minded person that consumers have been doing a brilliant job of regulating the Internet. There is no need to fire the consumer regulator and replace them with a bloated and inefficient government regulator.
Despite all evidence of a successful market, the tech left and the government are jealously trying to seize control over the Internet for themselves.
Other than those who seek power as their reward, this shift of control from the free economy to the government will not benefit anyone.
All the lofty promises surrounding this sort of cost-shifting and government coercion are just the sort of promises we heard when lower-cost or even “free” health care was being offered. Someone ends up having to pay the costs, and that usually means us.
Certainly, the number of regulatory assaults and power grabs may well be numbing to the senses of normal Americans. However, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, in the end, you don’t regulate things, you regulate people.
Since the commercial launch of the Internet, the people have been the regulators of the Internet, and we should jealously guard that power, lest the government seize it — and the next decade of progress — away from us.
David Williams is president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.