Technology Policy

A Brewing Storm over the Internet

As another hurricane season brews off our coasts, a storm of another kind is brewing in the halls of Congress over how the Internet should be regulated. The concept of “network neutrality” may be cloudy, but the implications are clear: Unnecessary restrictions on those that invest in the development of our nation’s high speed networks will stifle development and innovation here at home.

In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast, killing 48 Texans and ranking as the costliest weather disaster in the state’s history with a price tag of $12 billion. In the lead up to the storm as well as in its aftermath, Texans turned to the Internet to assist in preparation and recovery.

Public interest in Hurricane Ike was recorded by Google Hot Trends, which noted “Tropical Storm Ike” as one of the most popular search terms the day it became a named storm. After landfall, top searches were related to the landfall location and flooding. Citizens were sharing their stories online by uploading homemade videos of the devastation to YouTube. Texans were flocking to local government websites for news and the latest information.

But in the aftermath of such a significant storm, whose job was it to ensure the broadband capability for Texans was up and running, and to restore lines and connectivity after the clouds parted?

Not Google’s who provided search capabilities.

Not YouTube’s whose users were sharing their stories for millions to see and not even the government agencies providing emergency preparedness information for citizens.

The costs and responsibilities of maintaining and repairing internet access for Americans was that of the Internet service providers.

The ISPs own and maintain the lines that bring Internet into our homes. They are continually investing significant amounts of money to improve the user’s experience and expand access to more and more Americans. After natural disasters, they work overtime to repair and bring services back online for their customers. In response to the clean-up following a hurricane along the Gulf Coast, a spokesman for ISP BellSouth noted, “During the hurricanes, Google didn’t pay to have the DSL restored. We’re paying all that money.”

Proposals to regulate the Internet under the guise of “net neutrality” threaten to limit providers’ abilities to fund the increasing investment upgrades required to meet the needs of the population. US Telecom, a trade association representing many of the nation’s ISPs, suggests, “this unnecessary intervention would slow broadband deployment and the arrival of a wide variety of pro-consumer advances.  Regulating the Internet would delay the arrival of life-enhancing technological advances in health care, education, the economy and beyond by sending a distinct chill through the investment climate.”

Competition in today’s Internet marketplace is ensuring customers will have access to what they want at a price they are willing to pay. According to the Federal Communications Commission, there are over 1,400 broadband providers in the United States, with 75% of Americans already having at least three companies to choose from. This competition is accelerating development and deployment of new technologies working to extend the Internet’s reach and capabilities across our country.

While proponents of net neutrality regulations like to scare Internet users by forecasting dark days ahead when ISPs will censor usage and block customers from certain sites or applications, this is far from the truth. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association notes, “As the industry that largely created the residential broadband market, we fully embrace and will seek to protect a vibrant Internet … NCTA’s members have not, and will not, block the ability of their high-speed Internet customers to access any lawful content, application or services available over the public Internet.”

The real concern should be developing a network that can adequately meet the needs of a growing and more technically dependent population. Access to a continually improving network requires significant investment. Proposed net neutrality regulations would tie the hands of those that bring the Internet to our homes, investments that are needed to ensure a reliable network particularly when the forecast calls for rain.

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