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The net should move faster than the speed of government

Posted: December 3, 2014 - 12:10am

It’s such a nice word, isn’t it? It smacks of “fairness” and digital “justice;” of no favorites on the Internet.

All things being equal and Internet capacity being infinite, that’s a great idea. But the capacity is limited and providers sometimes need to make choices. It’s complicated, but think of it as the difference between routing an e-mail and flawlessly streaming your Netflix video. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your online streaming? Or be willing to see a tiny delay in the relay of your e-mail to keep your price low?

The visual of net neutrality for me, however, came in recalling a recent TV commercial for Edward Jones. In it, the surgeon is on the hospital phone and his patient is in his kitchen holding a knife:

“Hey, Bob. Have you disinfected the area? Good.

“Now make a 3-inch incision between the fourth and fifth abdominal muscles.”

Bob: “Shouldn’t you be doing this?”

Imagine if this was a telemedicine or mobile health surgical emergency, and the camera connecting the specialist and the layman/nurse practitioner/EMT in a rural area hiccups because of an unstable Internet connection. (It’s not an unlikely scenario under the best of circumstances. Just today at a meeting, a video presentation had to be cancelled because the Internet connection was slow, “buffering, buffering …”)

An unstable connection happens for many reasons, but one is that consumers are using more and more Internet each year, straining the spectrum. What if consistent service is crucial to your profession or business? What if you need faster speeds for some services, including telemedicine consultations and surgeries?

What if lives depended upon it? I don’t know about you, but it seems to me the Internet is working out its kinks nicely on its own. It’s enough that we have to credit Nobel winner Al Gore with inventing it; we certainly don’t need to credit Nobel winner President Obama with turning it into a utility in all 57 states.

“It is irksome when politicians take credit for the creations of others, and set ‘rules’ for the future that assure political involvement in what should be liberalized, non-politicized industries,” writes Clyde Wayne Crews of the Competititive Enterprise Institute in Forbes Magazine.

If there’s ever a case of why the Internet shouldn’t move at the speed of government, the Edward Jones commercial is my reminder. Let the markets and competition decide on what’s fair. The marketplace is regulating itself just fine, IMHO. Allowing government to establish neutrality is a recipe for technological disaster. The Affordable Care Act stands as a reminder of how tough it is to turn an unpopular tanker when government is at the wheel.

Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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