Colorado’s legislature should think twice about passing a net neutrality law

Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would impose so-called “net neutrality” on the Centennial State. 

Make no mistake, this misguided piece of legislation, which was filed in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) vote late last year to overturn Title II, would do nothing to promote internet “neutrality.” It would, however, inflict a great deal of harm on Coloradans. 

{mosads}Proponents of big government claim that regulating internet service providers (ISPs) as a public utility under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act — a 1930’s copper wire regulation that does not even mention the word internet — is the only way to prevent them from violating “net neutrality” — a set of principles that basically say all things on the internet must be treated the same.


In reality, Title II would have done nothing to address dramatized concerns about ISPs advantaging themselves over their competitors. As the D.C. Circuit Court explained, Title II would not have prevented ISPs from offering filtered internet access, and they are not doing so anyway out of fear that they would lose subscribers.

The truth of the matter is that Title II was just another attempt to expand government’s reach into our daily lives. Indeed, Title II utility-style regulations basically require companies to ask permission to innovate or make their products more customer-friendly. That is why we have smart phones after just 20 years of commercial internet, but no smart grid after nearly 100 years of electricity.

In that vein, emerging technologies also highlight the consequences that could stem from over-regulating the internet. Latency in a video game — when the images skip, slow down, or drag — is annoying, but latency when an automated vehicle needs to break could mean the difference between life and death. Remote surgery and monitoring of vitals should be able to operate without interference from packets carrying entertainment content. During a natural disaster or other emergency situation, first responders’ communications should take priority. In a malware or other cyber attack, where network operators can pinpoint the source, they need the ability to block, or at the very least slow harmful activity.

Unarguably, automated vehicles, telemedicine, emergency communications, and security should take precedence over regular internet traffic; not all types of internet traffic are the same. This is why the regulatory regime we have been under — where the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general deal with anticompetitive issues, and enforce consumer protection and privacy while still allowing for innovation — is much better than laws that seek to control every aspect of the internet, such as the “net neutrality” bill pending in Colorado.

Making matters worse, Title II would have left Americans with fewer choices and deteriorating service, as it would have made it even more costly and complex for new ISPs to enter the market and for existing ISPs to remain in business, build out their networks, and invest in new technology. Similarly, a patchwork of different state “net neutrality” laws would also result in those consequences particularly states with such legislation in place. Everyone is looking forward to 5G, but a state with complicated laws and regulatory barriers will only slow down deployment of next generation wireless connectivity. 

While bogus claims that the FCC “destroyed” the internet by voting to repeal Title II may have made Colorado lawmakers feel the need to take things into their own hands, the best solution is to let Congress — not 50 different states or unelected federal bureaucrats — figure out what, if anything, needs to be done. Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) has already taken the lead in shifting the “net neutrality” conversation away from the states and the FCC by introducing his own federal bill.

In the meantime, the best thing lawmakers in Denver can do for their constituents is reject efforts to regulate the internet at the state level.

Katie McAuliffe is executive director of Digital Liberty, a sister organization of Americans for Tax Reform dedicated to promoting free market tech and telecom policies. Margaret Mire is State Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit organization founded at the request of President Ronald Reagan.

Tags Colorado Federal Communications Commission Internet service providers Katie McAuliffe Margaret Mire Mike Coffman Net neutrality

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