Opinion

Millennials Stand to Lose if the Feds Control the Internet

It’s common knowledge that young people love the internet. And in case you needed any proof, consider one study that found that individuals born between 1980 and early 2000s are heavy internet users. In fact, users age 25 to 34 years old had the highest monthly average of internet usage amongst all groups last year. This is happening because the internet is how we connect with friends, consume news and watch our favorite television shows and movies.

Unfortunately, this online freedom is coming under attack by some who are convinced that what the internet needs is more government regulation.

Under the guise of “fairness,” proponents of increased federal control over the internet found support from the previous administration. With former President Barack Obama’s blessing, the Federal Communications Commission approved a plan in 2015 to reclassify internet service providers as utilities under a law dating back to the 1930s. By reclassifying ISPs as a utility, the internet is now subject to a vast and complicated regime of rules and regulations that limit consumer choice.

To be sure, the internet, like any other industry, must contend with some rules and regulations. But when they become unnecessarily burdensome, innovation and growth suffer. This is not an abstract argument. Since the FCC approved so-called net neutrality in 2015, investment in broadband infrastructure has declined for the first time ever outside of a recession. We have also seen some smaller ISPs being squeezed out of the marketplace, meaning consumers have fewer choices to access the internet.

There are other unintended consequences when the government meddles with the internet. Popular unlimited streaming services without data limits may now come under increased scrutiny. And internet service providers may be forced to pass on the higher costs of doing business – to say nothing of the higher taxes that will likely result. In short, consumers lose when the government is calling the shots.

This is the opposite of what has allowed the internet to flourish in the span of one lifetime. Beginning in the late 1990s under President Bill Clinton, the internet has largely operated with little government control, allowing companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to compete and innovate. Light touch government regulation has also helped drive down the cost of going online to consumers not just here in the United States, but also to billions around the world.

Thankfully, the new chairman of the FCC agrees. Since assuming leadership of the commission earlier this year, Ajit Pai has been working to roll back the stifling Obama-era rules to return the power of the internet back to consumers and the public.

This will benefit everybody, but this is particularly personal for millennials and young consumers who have grown up online and are driving much of the innovation that we see in Silicon Valley. Tumblr, Mashable and Snapchat are just a handful of the many tech companies that millennials have helped start that are changing the way we live.

But if bureaucrats and special interest groups have their way, the government will control the internet and pick winners and losers.

As the policy director of Generation Opportunity, an organization of millennials who believe in individual liberty and entrepreneurship, we are strong proponents of the idea that a free market telecommunications policy is the best approach when it comes to regulating the internet.

Younger consumers want a better, faster, cheaper internet – and a one-size-fits-all regulation that reflects the world of the 1930s is not the answer.

 

David Barnes is the policy director of Generation Opportunity.

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