Georgia Says

The Augusta Chronicle, Augusta, Georgia, on proposed Internet rules:

Large corporations can't always be trusted to do the right thing. But neither can governments. So when either considers tinkering with the Internet - our most pervasive information source and an increasingly indispensable part of our lives - we are naturally cautious.

You should be, too.

The Federal Communications Commission this year will make decisions with wide-ranging implications on how companies deliver web content to consumers.

The proposed "net neutrality" rules currently out for public comment will define what constitutes a "free market" on the Internet - and possibly open the door to increased governmental regulation.

The FCC's previous regulations were struck down by a federal court earlier this year. Those rules prevented Internet service providers, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, from offering web-content producers, such as Netflix and Amazon, faster data-delivery speeds for a higher fee.

The practice finally would free the ISPs to create a tiered delivery system, with so-called "fast lane" service to those willing to pay premium prices to reach millions of households and businesses. It also would likely prompt ISPs to expand network capacities and invest in new technologies to better meet consumers' insatiable appetite for data.

However, the tiered-system concept, which the FCC calls "paid prioritization," goes against some people's notion of a "free Internet," where everyone is entitled to the same access and all data is equal. Hence, the "Net neutrality" debate.

The courts say the FCC can't prohibit tiers as long as the Internet remains classified as an "information service." So the danger is that the Democrat-controlled FCC, under the banner of net neutrality, will move to reclassify ISPs as "common carrier" telecommunications services, subjecting them to monopoly-style public utility rules, regulations and taxes.

That should make everyone cringe.

Do we want a vital segment of the economy that has flourished for two decades without significant government controls subjected to the bureaucratic whims of Washington? Do we want the nation's 20th-century regulator of broadcasters and phone companies morphing into a 21st-century Internet traffic cop?

We don't need a "Federal Internet Commission."

In addition to the self- vs. government-regulation debate, the FCC will get to define what constitutes a "free market" in cyberspace. It boils down to this: Does free mean ISPs pushing all content equally through their pipes, or is free when ISPs can offer faster service to those willing to pay for it?

We believe it is the latter.

We've seen enough meddling with the First Amendment on public airwaves. We don't need bureaucrats intruding in the copper wires and fiber optic lines connecting our homes to the rest of the world.

Heavy regulation seldom benefits the marketplace, yet that's what many people are asking be done to the country's largest market.

The FCC public comment period closes in September. Those asking for a heavier government hand in the Internet should tread lightly, because they may get exactly what they wish for.




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