NetCompetition's Cleland: Making Internet Public Utility Could Kill It

Thursday, 10 Jul 2014 09:58 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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If "net neutrality" advocates persuade the U.S. government to classify the Internet as a public utility — and regulate it like one — the World Wide Web could become a shell of its dynamic self, an advocate for less federal Internet oversight told Newsmax TV on Thursday.

"It's one of the worst ideas I've heard of in my life," Scott Cleland, chairman of NetCompetition, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.

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It's an idea gaining traction in Washington, D.C., where the Federal Communications Commission is debating a proposal to recategorize the Internet, currently a Title I information service under FCC rules, as a Title II public utility — whose pricing structure and rate hikes would be more heavily regulated by the government.

"It's the antithesis of everything we know about the Internet," said Cleland, a former telecommunications policy adviser under President George H.W. Bush.

Supporters of Title II regulation argue it will guarantee net neutrality — the principle that all Internet traffic flows at one speed without preference for any content provider or consumer.

Cleland said the net neutrality argument — with its dire warnings of a segregated Internet — is a cover for online giants such as Yahoo and Netflix that use more bandwidth but don't want to pay more for the freight they ask Internet service providers to carry.

Netflix recently — and grudgingly — agreed to pay Verizon and other providers to speed up its video streams.

Cleland said the Title II designation would amount to the government nationalizing a vibrant, healthy private-sector industry that has spent billions of its own dollars to continuously upgrade and expand its product.

He estimated that the modern Internet is worth more than half a trillion dollars to the telecommunications companies that continually work and invest to increase the Internet's speed, reach and capacity.

Declaring it a public utility by government decree, he said, could destroy the companies' incentives to keep innovating, improving and building on their already huge investment.

"If this happened, it would create a mother-may-I structure where everything — any time you want to construct something, you want to price it, you want to add set terms and conditions — you have to ask for permission from the FCC and big government," said Cleland. " And you wait months or potentially years for an answer."

He called the Title II proposal "anti-innovation and anti-progress" and "anti-commercial freedom."

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