The net-neutrality rules now in place reinforce the Internet’s original design principle: that all traffic is carried equally and without any special charges beyond those of transmission. Among other things, the rules are a pricing truce for the Internet; without them, we can expect a fight that will serve no one’s interests and will ultimately stick consumers with Internet bills that rise with the same speed as cable television’s. [...]
Think of it this way: net neutrality, which sets all these prices at zero, is effectively a grand truce between the big app firms and the infrastructure providers. It eliminates an unnecessary middleman: consumers deal directly with content vendors and app firms. That’s a much healthier market dynamic than one driven by hidden, passed-on costs. If cable TV isn’t a good enough example, consider the dysfunction of the health-care industry, where consumers never see what they are paying for. That’s what the present rule avoids.
Finally, and most importantly for the public, the net-neutrality rule continues to provide a kind of subsidy to smaller speakers and startups, from bloggers to Quora and Wikipedia. The Internet would look a lot different if these kinds of players had to pay cable before reaching their customers. It would start to look a lot more like cable TV, and few things could really be worse than that.
Wheeler and the other members of the Federal Communications Commission will be very tempted to try and avoid and ignore net neutrality during Obama’s second term. If, magically, the rules aren’t struck down, they will have that luxury. But if the rules are struck down, avoiding the problem may lead to a replication of the horrors of the cable-television market. There’s trouble brewing; facing it is both the Commission’s responsibility and its destiny.
Tim Wu, @superwuster on Twitter, is a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of “The Master Switch.”