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Some members of Congress and other individuals are saying that the FCC should not be handling the net neutrality debate. Instead, they say that it should be the FTC. And antitrust law will play a role as well. But the real problem is a lack of understanding of what net neutrality covers. We may need a combination of the above or a new entity to properly resolve the net neutrality debate.
The general House consensus is that FTC regulation is enough to guarantee that ISPs do not misuse their powers. And the FCC does not actually need to regulate them at all. But this is true only in terms of market competition. The FCC would only jump in if they detected market failure. Current FCC regulation reform related to the net neutrality debate is not doing well in the appellate courts.
Tim Wu, the proponent of net neutrality, says that trying to handle the net neutrality debate from a purely economic perspective will not solve the issue. Antitrust law may take care of some of the perceived economic harms. But it cannot protect people’s freedom of speech and the right to equal access to and delivery of content. The Internet is not what it was when the net neutrality debate surfaced. And regulation needs to adjust to be able to properly manage net neutrality concerns.
The Net Neutrality Debate
FCC net neutrality proposals have largely failed because they do not consider the non-economic factors of the net neutrality debate. People are worried that ISPs will be allowed to wield too much power over bandwidth. They will pick and choose what services get to deliver their content at adequate speeds. Advocacy groups, individuals and Internet companies protested the traffic discrimination that new FCC regulations would allow. Clearly the FCC does not fully understand the net neutrality debate. And neither do many who vehemently oppose Internet fast lanes.
The core issue is not that fast lanes exist, but that companies are gaining complete control over them. Fast lanes are necessary to deliver certain types of content, like video. The problem is who controls these fast lanes. We cannot do away with the content delivery servers and peering connections that make it possible to deliver heavy traffic. But we need to regulate the companies that are creating monopolies on content delivery. The real net neutrality debate must be refocused. It is about preventing these companies from pushing out smaller companies and charging exorbitant rates for content delivery. This net neutrality debate has both economic and non-economic aspects and must be managed by an appropriate agency. Once this is understood, the proper agency can take over.
Maintaining healthy competition among a good number of ISPs is the solution to the net neutrality debate. This is the most reasonable way out because it can answer all perspectives on the net neutrality debate. ISPs can be properly compensated, Internet services can get fair treatment, and users will not fear bandwidth throttling or high service costs. Tim Wu says that healthy competition will promote the equality that will maintain net neutrality on its own.