Working for a better economy, better governance and a better society

By Tom Giovanetti

Does the United States Post Office block my access to first class mail by also offering me, for an additional fee, faster Priority Mail and Express Mail options? No, of course not.

Does the U.S. Department of State block my access to passport services by also offering, for an additional fee, a faster, expedited passport service? Of course not.

Do states and counties deny us access to roads by also offering, for an additional toll, access to expressways? Of course not.

These and many other government agencies commonly offer access to faster services for additional fees, giving consumers choices. Having a choice of faster additional options doesn’t mean that you have been denied access to the original service.

If federal government agencies have no problem offering faster services for additional fees, why do some in the federal government think that it would be outrageous if Internet broadband networks did the same thing federal agencies are already doing—offering faster or prioritized service for an additional fee?

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that it intends, once again, to tie itself up in knots formulating network neutrality rules.

Two of the proposed rules, the “no blocking” rule and the “non-discrimination rule,” are intended by at least some net neutrality activists to prevent broadband companies from experimenting with new business models such as offering “fast lanes” or higher quality of service (QoS) to those Internet companies willing to pay for it. But such business models are common in the economy, as an extension of the right of a willing buyer and a willing seller to contract. And, as we’ve pointed out, even the federal government feels free to offer prioritized services for a fee. There is simply no extant principle that should forbid companies from being allowed to subsidize in some way better consumer access to their content over the Internet, and if the FCC constructs one, it should be aggressively opposed in the courts and by Congress.

How could a “no blocking” rule, which would seem on its face to be non-controversial, be used to stifle new business models? Well, in FCC Chairman Wheeler’s statement, he pledged to “ensure that edge providers are not unfairly blocked, explicitly or implicitly.” What the heck would it mean to be “implicitly blocked?” Sounds like a lot of wiggle room is being reserved that could be later used to define blocking very broadly.

“We don’t want to pay for Priority Mail” is not equivalent to being blocked from the U.S. Postal Service. “We don’t want to pay for expedited passport services” is not equivalent to being blocked from passport services. And “we don’t want to pay for enhanced quality of service (QoS)” is not the same as being blocked on the Internet.

The federal government sells fast lane access and higher qualities of service. It shouldn’t forbid broadband companies from doing the same thing.

Tom Giovanetti is the President of the Institute for Policy Innovation. Read more at www.ipi.org.