Members of global advocacy group Avaaz stand next to a digital counter showing the number of petition signatures calling for net neutrality outside the Federal Communication Commission in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014.
When news of the Federal Communications Commissions' plan to consider paid priority on the Internet hit Reddit, the question wasn't so much whether the move was a good idea, it was "How do I best tell my elected representative that this is a horrible idea?"
Reddit is not the only corner of the Internet where the debate over net neutrality appears one-sided. Most tech commenters appear to be in lockstep on the issue. There is another side to the argument, though. A small minority are applauding the FCC's potential move, often on libertarian grounds, though when the cable companies are talking, self-interest also plays a big role. Here are their five top arguments against net neutrality in principle:
It gives the government more power over the Internet
As journalist Glenn Greenwald reported, the NSA already tampers with U.S.-made routers for spying purposes.
If net neutrality went into effect, then the government would have to monitor the telecoms' and cable companies' broadband connections. Writing in Forbes, entrepreneur Joshua Steimie warned, "Don’t be surprised if that means the government needs to be able to install its own hardware and software at critical points to monitor Internet traffic. Once installed, can we trust this government, or any government, to use that access in a benign fashion?"
It's not a free market solution
If the government enforces net neutrality it would essentially be impeding what had been a free market. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable industry's primary lobbying group, argues that regulating the Internet like a utility — one of the ideas being considered — is dumb. "Imposing regulations designed for century-old utilities will only choke off growth and investment," the group reasons.
As former FCC Chairman and NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell wrote in a recent op-ed, giving the FCC power over regulating rates for broadband would "fracture confidence that our national broadband policy rests squarely on a light regulatory foundation. Network investment would suffer, and the push to reach more households would slow."
Little regulation has worked fine until now
Though there has been more than $1 trillion invested in the Internet since the '90s, as Powell argues, the federal government has had a very light touch. That is not entirely by choice, as FCC regulation has twice been struck down by a federal appeals court.
Today, wired or wireless broadband reaches 99% of Americans and connections running 100 Mpbs and faster are available in 85% of homes, the NCTA argues.
Classifying the Internet as a common carrier service wouldn't have the intended effect
This is the argument Comcast EVP David Cohen put forth recently. "There is nothing in Title II that provides authority for saying that all [Web] services have to be treated the same," he said this week at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit. That is, even if the Internet was considered a utility, cable companies like Comcast could still initiate tiered pricing.
Charging everyone the same price isn't fair
Cohen continued that the days of all-you-can-eat pricing are coming to an end. Within five years he expects Comcast to charge based on usage. “People who use more should pay more, and people who use less should pay less," he said. Data caps will be high enough that most customers won't notice them, he says. Going back to the utilities metaphor, that's the same way it works with electricity, gas and water.