The Federal Trade Commission yesterday weighed in on the critical issue of net neutrality — or, more accurately, it indicated it had no intention of weighing in on this critical consumer protection issue. That’s bad news for consumers.
For the uninitiated, net neutrality is shorthand for the idea that Internet providers should be prevented from speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination. Big Internet providers such as cable and phone companies don’t like it. Big Internet users such as Google and Yahoo support it, as do many public interest groups, including Consumers Union, the sponsor of this blog.
Here is what FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras had to say about the report that was approved and released by her agency yesterday. Click here to view her entire statement and here to read the entire report. Be forewarned that the report is large and the FTC web site it notoriously slow.
“This report recommends that policy makers proceed with caution in the evolving, dynamic industry of broadband Internet access, which generally is moving toward more – not less – competition. In the absence of significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm, policy makers should be particularly hesitant to enact new regulation in this area.”
In other words, the agency that is supposed to be the federal government’s leading watchdog for consumers believes it should do nothing “in the absence of significant market failure or demonstated consumer harm.” This is the equivalent of a government agency saying it will look at the idea of requiring fire alarms after — and only after — there is a big fire that kills a bunch of people.
But Majoras didn’t stop there. She then went on to warn the rest of Washington’s policy makers that they “should be particularly hesitant to enact new regulation in this area.”
In contrast, FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz raises some serious misgivings about a “wait-and-see” attitude by the agency on net neutrality. Click here to view Leibowitz’s full statement.
“The report also soberly reminds us that regulation often has unintended side-effects. That is surely true. But it seems to me equally clear that this report shows that doing nothing may have its costs as well,” said Leibowitz.
This report and the FTC’s dismissive attitude about net neutrality should infuriate any consumer who pays a monthly Internet bill. At best, most American consumers currently have a choice of two high-speed Internet providers, the phone company and the cable company. Many have only one, or none at all.
We are hopeful that few policy makers in Washington will heed Majoras warning to bury their heads deep in the sand on the issue of net neutrality.
Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America recently wrote a great guest blog for us on this issue and why it should matter so much to consumers, which you can read by clicking here.
In closing, we will note the irony of the FTC’s motto — “Protecting America’s Consumers” — which is sprayed along the top of the agency’s web page and letterhead. The agency also likes to tout itself as the leading consumer watchdog within the federal government.
Watchdogs don’t have to be viscious. Some are even lame, blind and toothless and still do a pretty good job of protecting life and property. But the one thing a watchdog should never be is indifferent to those it is supposed to be protecting.