Commentary

Broadband Users Have Plenty of Choices

Consumers don't need 'network neutrality'

When broadband Internet connections were first getting rolling, cable technology was one of the easiest ways to provide them. And since cable companies were essentially monopolies, the idea of open access – allowing competing firms to reach customers over the same cable lines – had a certain appeal.

That appeal has withered away with time, technological changes and a new Supreme Court decision that says cable companies don’t have to allow competitors to use their high-speed Internet lines. Many expect the court’s decision to spur the Federal Communications Commission to deregulate phone companies who are also required to share their lines for Internet connections.

Claims that the Supreme Court’s ruling and the fallout will somehow work to limit consumer choices on the World Wide Web are way off-base. And I should know. I live on a farm in the Sierra Nevada, well outside of the nearest small town of 7,800 people and more than 120 miles outside of Los Angeles.

My property is not served by a cable company or by DSL broadband over the phone lines. Yet I have three companies competing to provide me with broadband Internet access – two satellite companies and a wireless company. My father lives even farther from town and yet has five options for broadband access.

In a world where rural mountain valleys two hours outside of L.A. have five options for high-speed Internet access, the idea that we have to artificially create competition though regulations and policies like open access is absurd.

We may not have the extent of broadband access in the U.S. that we want, but open-access policies are partly to blame for that. The regulations actually created a huge disincentive for companies to invest in more broadband infrastructure and slowed down its expansion.

When any product is as competitively provided as broadband access now is, the need to regulate market access is dead and gone. But of course those who don’t like, or trust, competition and our free-market system are unhappy.

Hence, even as the idea of open access is dying, the battle is shifting to a new front and a new buzz term – network neutrality – meaning rules against broadband firms influencing the way content flows to you.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, some consumer groups fear we’ll see fewer broadband providers, higher fees, and that cable companies will rig the system so that Internet sites they own load fast and ones they don’t own load slowly or are even blocked.

Consumers wouldn’t stand for that. When you have a choice among several service providers, why would you choose or stay with one that is deliberately hindering your Internet use?

“Network neutrality” is just the latest desperate attempt to cling to a regime of regulations based on the way our technology was more than 20 years ago and regulatory theories at least 40 years past their prime.

Los Angeles is likely to be the test ground for network neutrality as the city negotiates its franchise-renewal deal with the cable companies. For the last few years, the city has chosen to extend a contract that brings in $20 million in franchise fees each year from the cable companies. The city controller wants the 18-year-old pacts renegotiated. Consumer groups and others are pressuring city leaders to make network neutrality rules a requirement of any new agreement.

But consumers don’t need protection from this phantom threat. Consumers can cast the ultimate vote with their pocketbooks by switching companies.

Broadband Internet access is a very competitive market and no consumer is held captive. We don’t need network neutrality. Instead of producing benefits, these policies are much more likely to hinder innovation and slow down the expansion of high-speed Internet access.

Adrian Moore is Vice President of Reason Foundation.

Adrian Moore

Adrian Moore, Ph.D., is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. Moore leads Reason's policy implementation efforts and conducts his own research on topics such as privatization, government and regulatory reform, air quality, transportation and urban growth, prisons and utilities.

Moore, who has testified before Congress on several occasions, regularly advises federal, state and local officials on ways to streamline government and reduce costs.

In 2008 and 2009, Moore served on Congress' National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. The commission offered "specific recommendations for increasing investment in transportation infrastructure while at the same time moving the Federal Government away from reliance on motor fuel taxes toward more direct fees charged to transportation infrastructure users." Since 2009 he has served on California's Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission.

Mr. Moore is co-author of the book Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, "Speaking from our experiences in Texas, Sam Staley and Adrian Moore get it right in Mobility First." World Bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

Moore is also co-author of Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, published in 1997 by the Brookings Institution Press, as well as dozens of policy studies. His work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Orange County Register, as well as in, Public Policy and Management, Transportation Research Part A, Urban Affairs Review, Economic Affairs, and numerous other publications.

In 2002, Moore was awarded a World Outsourcing Achievement Award by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Michael F. Corbett & Associates Ltd. for his work showing governments how to use public-private partnerships and the private sector to save taxpayer money and improve the efficiency of their agencies.

Prior to joining Reason, Moore served 10 years in the Army on active duty and reserves. As an noncommissioned officer he was accepted to Officers Candidate School and commissioned as an Infantry officer. He served in posts in the United States and Germany and left the military as a Captain after commanding a Heavy Material Supply company.

Mr. Moore earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Irvine. He holds a Master's in Economics from the University of California, Irvine and a Master's in History from California State University, Chico.