Many internet sites are banding together this week in support of so-called "net neutrality"—the idea that internet service providers should not be able to discriminate between different internet content.
This sounds good; after all, none of us want to see particular viewpoints or content sources that we support or consume being blocked. But the truth is, that rather than supporting a freer, more vibrant internet, net neutrality actually does the opposite.
Until a few years ago when the FCC classified the internet as a Title II utility, ISPs were free to serve content as they wished. If consumers didn't like the service that they were getting, they had the freedom to decide to either put up with it or switch to a different ISP that offered the service that they wanted. Just like we do with services in every other part of our lives.
Consumers also had the freedom to seek out ISPs that provided service specially tailored to their specific needs, based on what kinds of content they did or did not want to consume, and what kind of devices they used. This meant that ISPs could offer plans that blocked unwanted content, or optimized the serving of a particular kind of content. That way, consumers could get the sort of plan that they needed, instead of having to pay for a generic plan that treats all content equally—even content that a particular consumer doesn't need or want to see.
In other words, net neutrality actually limits consumer freedom, by limiting what kinds of internet service plans are allowed to be available for a user to purchase. It means that consumers would no longer be allowed to seek out plans tailored specifically to their needs. Everybody would be forced to have the exact same generic treatment of all content equally.
Of course, even without net neutrality, ISPs are free to offer plans that treat all content equally, if this is the experience that consumers want. Those people who support net neutrality can put their money where their mouth is, and only purchase service from providers that don't discriminate between different kinds of content—no government intervention necessary.
And with all of many big cable companies' shortcomings, at least we have the freedom to take our money and go elsewhere for service if we don't like a particular ISP. But you can't just decide you don't like how some government bureaucrats are are handling things and shop elsewhere—unless you want to leave the country.
And once the internet is classified as a Title II utility, it is just the first step to even more government intervention and regulation of the internet—which in the end could undermine the very principles of net neutrality that those supporting Title II classification are aiming for.
And no, net neutrality won't sock it to "big cable". Instead, while big cable will weather the storm, it will force some niche ISPs out of business. And it will make it harder to compete with the big cable companies in the future, because there will be one less way for smaller companies to differentiate. By compressing the market, it will actually make it more difficult to challenge the large cable companies when we're dissatisfied with their service.
In short, supporting "net neutrality" is not unlike saying that Google shouldn't be able to discriminate between different content in its search results on any basis whatsoever; that it should have to toss out its algorithms; that all search engines should have to treat all content the same as every other search engine. Of course, that would defeat the purpose of their existence, because they'd be forced to comply with an arbitrary principle instead of simply providing the experience that offers the best results for their users.
Net neutrality would take away our freedom to get what we want out of the internet, the way that we want it. Instead, we'd all have to see the internet through the very same lenses.
Most of us don't want our ISPs discriminating in particular ways—great, so don't buy internet service from any that do. And if you can't find an ISP that does exactly what you want, the good news is, that at least for now, it is still a free country, and you or somebody else can create one to fill that need.
That is, it is still a free country, as long as we continue to stand against net neutrality. After that, you'll no longer have that freedom. And innovation, and thus the Internet's vibrancy and diversity, will suffer as a result.