Google and Verizon deserve a couple of cheers for trying to go over the head of the Federal Communications Commission and make some headway in the tangled debate over the Internet's future.
But their proposal, envisioned as the starting point for congressional debate, fails to make the case for government intervention. Internet lines were deregulated in 2002. It's far from clear that the feds need to wade into what remains a thriving and competitive marketplace.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says Internet service providers should be supervised under the same part of a Depression-era law that still governs the copper-wire phone companies. He says that wouldn't mean requirements for line-sharing or regulation of broadband rates, but it would require providers such as Verizon or AT&T to allow data to travel to subscribers without interference.
On the surface, this sounds fine. But in practice it makes little sense to treat each data packet precisely the same, regardless of whether it's streaming video or spam. Internet service providers should be able to pursue different pricing models. That will allow them to generate revenue needed for steady upgrades in technology.
Some consumer advocates fear that allowing different rates for "priority services" would lead to a world in which the regular Internet gets short shrift. That's not likely as long as competition remains robust — and consumers are able to "fire" one provider in favor of another.
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