Ted Cruz spoke out against net neutrality on Monday, responding to President Barack Obama's announcement just an hour prior that he's in favor of it.
As the American Enterprise Institute noted
, the split highlighted and polarized an issue that has recently begun bubbling to the surface as the FCC weighs how it to classify and regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Should they be heavily regulated like water and electric utilities? Or should they operate with light regulation as private businesses?
Those on the political left say, predictably, that they should be regulated heavily to preserve so-called net neutrality. Because companies like Netflix hog so much of the bandwidth on any given network (Comcast's, Time Warner's, etc.), net neutrality advocates are worried that if we don't disallow it, the ISPs will be tempted to charge Netflix for using so much. By making sure that ISPs treat Netflix and small-time content providers like bloggers equally on the network, net neutrality advocates hope to ensure equality on the network. That also means that newcomer companies wouldn't have to pay-to-play.
Those on the political right say, predictably, that heavy regulation will kill competition that ultimately benefits customers, create opportunities for regulatory capture and corruption, and create perverse incentives for ISPs when it comes to innovation. The perverse incentives argument says that without being able to raise some sort of funding by charging clients, and without competition, ISPs will have no incentive to upgrade the network.
Without regulation, ISPs upgraded most of the country from DSL to cable-based Internet — drastically improving data speeds. Most people would love to see them upgrade from cable to fiber for another speed boost, but that scenario is less likely under heavy regulation.
Somewhere in the political middle, technologists like Marc Andreessen — the man who created the first widely-used Internet browser — want to find a way to preserve the low barriers to entry that net neutrality provides startup businesses, but also want to make sure ISPs continue to innovate and upgrade their networks.
"Strict net neutrality would kill investment in infrastructure, limit the future of what broadband can deliver," he wrote on Twitter in February
He then proposed a thought experiment that is likely to happen in the not too distant future. He asked his followers to imagine that Netflix traffic grows to 3, 10, or 100 times its current volume. In that scenario, "Would Comcast still have to eat the cost of back-end connections all on its own?" he asked. "Is there any upper bound on how much [money] Comcast should have to spend on equipment to handle Netflix traffic [for] free?"
In the ideal scenario, Andreessen explained that there is no net neutrality, and that many of the downsides thereof are offset by competition from multiple ISPs.
"The ultimate answer would be if you had three or four or five broadband providers to every house," he said in an interview with The Washington Post
"You can imagine a world in which there are five competitors to every home for broadband: telcos, cable, Google Fiber, mobile carriers, and unlicensed spectrum. In that world, net neutrality is a much less central issue, because if you've got competition, if one of your providers started to screw with you, you'd just switch to another one of your providers."
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