A Free and Open Internet Needs Some Regulation: Why Even Free Market Advocates Should Agree


We’ve heard a lot of good arguments by now in favor of net neutrality, including those from the 40,000 unique websites who participated in last week’s Internet Slowdown day, the millions of people who have filed comments with the FCC, comedian John Oliver on his show, “Last Week Tonight,” and members of Congress like Senator Angus King, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Leader Nancy Pelosi. By the deadline this Monday, the FCC had received a record 3 million public comments. And we’re hoping they’re taking these calls to protect the free and open Internet seriously.

Of course, those opposed to the FCC implementing rules to protect the Internet from discrimination have their own arguments. And these naysayers include not only the the obvious ISPs, but also many groups who claim that Title II option amounts to “dangerous” regulation.

But, as we’ve said before, they have it all wrong, at least from a free market perspective.

We caught wind of a remarkably well-argued and well-researched piece by blogger and software developer James J. Heaney. He makes a free-market defense of net neutrality, which indeed requires the“R” word—regulation. While regulation can occasionally be heavy-handed and overbroad, regulating ISPs under Title II doesn’t necessarily implicate these concerns. So as complicated as the laws surrounding net neutrality are, it may come as no surprise that the assumption that net neutrality guaranteed under Title II is in opposition to free market principles doesn’t quite add up.

If you have the time (and an interest in a short lesson on the invisible hand), we recommend reading the post for yourself, but in short, Heaney explains why an open Internet that operates within our notions of a free market should be protected by the FCC from monopoly takeover—under Title II.

He points out that nearly every believer in the free market system understands the importance of government’s role in reigning in monopolies, the mega-companies that stifle any and all competitors. And whether they’ve meant to or not, the ISPs we depend on every day have become natural monopolies. This gives them an unfair amount of power over consumers, not to mention every startup in the nation in need of an Internet connection (which we’re pretty sure is every startup).

Reclassifying ISPs under Title II as common carriers would make the Verizons and Comcasts subject to some government regulation, but what free marketers and any entrepreneur trying to create the next technological sensation should recognize is that such regulation would reduce the further monopolization of the Internet and, in fact, keep the marketplace open.

The FCC has broad flexibility to implement only the Title II regulations that make sense in the context of the broadband market. And applying Title II with sensible forbearance will actually give the FCC less discretion to regulate at its whims than what it could do under the rules the Commissioner proposed this spring. 

Startups seeking cost-effective ways to store data, fast channels to reach new customers, and open access to tools that will help them build their businesses deserve to operate in an environment protected from favoritism and the exploitation of power, a power that would allow ISPs to create fast lanes and arbitrarily raise prices.

We enjoyed Heaney’s important take on the issue, but whatever your ideology or however strong your feelings about the free market, supporting the Title II option, and with that, some regulation, is a necessity for the Internet—and our economy—to continue as we know it.