Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia “struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules, which prohibited Internet providers from blocking or prioritizing Web traffic,” Brian Fung reports for the Washington Post.
Although the ruling created a furor among leftist activists, it is a victory for individual rights.
At issue is whether the owners of an Internet service provider—those who invested their wealth and efforts into creating the business—in fact own their own business. Rather than recognize the rights of business owners to control their own property and contract freely with others, advocates of “net neutrality” regulations call on government to dictate how the businesses may operate.
Fung unwittingly describes the objectionable nature of net neutrality regulations: “At stake here is an Internet provider’s ability to charge Web companies such as Netflix for better service, which public interest advocates say may harm consumers.” An Internet service provider’s ability to charge what it sees fit for services it chooses to offer is precisely what is at stake.
Note how, as Fung describes it, “better service . . . may harm consumers.” But Internet service providers have a right to offer premium services if they want, and customers have a right to contract with those who provide them on mutually agreed terms. Consumers who choose to pay more for better service obviously benefit from the arrangement.
More fundamentally, the standard for proper government action is not what alleged “public interest advocates” claim to be in the interests of consumers (as if they could determine those interests anyway). Rather, the proper standard is individual rights. Government should act to “protect” neither businesses nor consumers in a way that violates others’ rights; rather, it should act to protect the rights of all. Net neutrality regulations obviously violate this standard.
Although the court’s ruling apparently was too narrow to address the question of individual rights—in Fung’s words, the court “found that the network neutrality rules contradicted a previous FCC decision that put broadband companies beyond its regulatory reach”—at least the ruling does reject rights-violating regulations.
In his TOS article “Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet,” Raymond C. Niles provides a more detailed description of net neutrality regulations and a fuller critique of them. He concludes:
[N]et neutrality violates the rights of private property owners—specifically Internet service providers. The fact that Internet access is a profound value does not justify government force against the ISPs that make it possible, any more than the fact that books are a profound value justifies government involvement in Barnes and Noble’s pricing, displaying, and stocking of books. The property of Internet service providers is theirs; as such, they have the moral right to use and dispose of it as they please, regardless of what their customers, FCC bureaucrats, and net neutrality advocates have to say about it.
Unfortunately, net neutrality is a small part of a wider effort to erode property rights in America. As with eminent domain, zoning laws, and the like, net neutrality holds that it is moral to violate the rights of property owners for the “greater good.” Net neutrality holds that the benefit of a “neutral” Internet to all of its users justifies the use of force against those who own and maintain its backbone. It does not.
America morally must recognize the rights of Internet service providers to manage their property as they see fit. We must undo the relatively few controls already placed on the Internet, repudiate net neutrality, and keep the government’s stupid hands off this brilliant private property.
To protect the rights of Internet businesses and their customers, Americans must demand that government do away with so-called net neutrality regulations and instead recognize people’s rights to conduct business in this arena as they see fit.