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Once again, President Obama is trying his hand as populist candyman, now pressing the FCC to adopt “net neutrality” rules for regulating internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers. Net neutrality refers to regulations on ISPs that would prohibit different treatment of different types of internet content, matters that are better left to market participants. Obama has no idea what he’s doing or who he’ll be hurting (hint: internet users of all stripes). The candy is an illusion. Peter Suderman’ has an aptly titled article on this topic at Reason: “Will 2015 Be the Year the FCC Regulates the Internet Back to 1934?” He offers some background on the history of U.S. telecommunications regulation and explains the context within which FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the Commission will deal with the issue. Suderman closes with this thought:

If Wheeler does take this route (reclassification of ISPs as common carriers], as he now seems to determined (sic), we’ll end up with an Internet that is more regulated, more subject to regulatory uncertainty in the near-term, and more like a public utility from another era than an information delivery service for the modern age. It’ll be 2015—but for the Internet, it’ll be 1934 all over again.

Wired also gives its perspective but implies that Wheeler is seeking ways to reclassify the ISPs, impose neutrality rules, while also creating sufficient exceptions to mollify the ISPs, avoiding litigation as well as market disruption. That would be nice as far as it goes.

Net neutrality is a misnomer, as Sacred Cow Chips has discussed on two previous occasions in “The Non-Neutrality of Network Hogs“, and “Net Neutrality: A Tangled Web“. A lowlight is the corporate cronyism inherent in calls for net neutrality. The biggest beneficiaries are not consumers, but large content providers such as Netflix and Google, though the latter has altered its position on neutrality now that it is entering the market as an ISP. Another lowlight is the disincentive for network expansion created by forced subsidies to the large content providers, who are extremely heavy users of internet capacity.

Jeffrey Eisenach at AEI picks apart the arguments in favor of internet regulation. He also counters assertions that consumers are likely to benefit from internet regulation. Here are two choice quotes:

And while much is made of consumers’ limited choices, the broadband market is actually less concentrated than the markets for search engines, social networks, and over-the-top video services: discriminatory regulation of ISPs cannot be justified on the basis of market power.

Finally, there’s the argument about fast lanes and slow lanes, or, in regulatory jargon, “paid prioritization.” The simple reality is that edge providers like Netflix require prioritization for their services to work. It’s just the “paid” part they don’t like.

Finally, Don Boudreaux provides two relevant quotes on regulation, one from the great Ronald Coase, along with some of his own thoughts. I close with Boudreaux’s summation:

Government imposition of “net neutrality” will substitute bureaucrats’ politically poisoned judgments on what are and what are not appropriate business practices for the market-tested judgments of legions of suppliers competing for the patronage of hundreds of millions – indeed, often billions – of consumers.