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Net Neutrality Developments

In recent years the “Net Neutrality” movement has gained steam. This is an effort by various statists, interventionists, do-gooders, meddlers, and techno-ignoramuses who seek to have the government forbid network providers (e.g. cable companies, telcos, and wireless carriers) from selectively blocking certain types of Internet use–for example, to require companies to give Web users equal access to all content, even if some of that content is clogging the network. Of course, as I noted on A Libertarian Take on Net Neutrality, the network neutrality movement is unlibertarian. There is nothing wrong with price discrimination or with charging different prices for different levels of service. As some anti-corporatist types are only too eager to point out, without state intervention the major telcos might well not have as much monopolistic power as they currently do. But it doesn’t make much sense to urge that the state engage in further intervention to fix the problem of previous state intervention. It is state intervention that is the problem.

In the latest development on this front, as reported in U.S. Court Curbs F.C.C. Authority on Web Traffic, cable company Comcast Corporation had challenged the F.C.C.’s authority to impose Net Neutrality rules. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled in Comcast’s favor, holding that F.C.C. regulators have limited power over Web traffic. As the article notes, “The decision will allow Internet service companies to block or slow specific sites and charge video sites like YouTube to deliver their content faster to users.”

Libertarians should not leap for joy, however. The court merely held that current federal statutes do not happen to give the F.C.C. quite enough authority to regulate Internet companies in this manner. They didn’t say it would be unconstitutional or even unwise. So all Congress has to do is pass a law. And they’re good at doing that.

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