In thinking about the controversy over “net neutrality” that President Obama stirred up on Monday, we should keep in mind that private ownership and freedom of exchange are the foundations of a free society. Internet service providers own their fiber optic cables, switches, and so on, the physical infrastructure of the Internet. It’s their property. Their rights to their own should be respected.
They should be free to sell the use of their property to content providers on whatever basis they choose, including charging heavy users such as Netflix and Google a premium to get their customers consistently fast service.
That’s really all needs to be said in this controversy. We don’t need to talk about economic consequences. If we believe in property rights and freedom of exchange, “net neutrality” is a non-starter.
As for the economic consequences, the incentives to innovate, expand service, and reduce prices that always come with wide-open enterprise based on property rights and free exchange will drive ever-wider access to Internet services at ever-lower prices, while letting bureaucrats dictate who may, or must, provide what services at what prices is a sure recipe for stultification.
But we don’t need to consider the economic consequences to know what to do here. In a free and decent society we respect others’ ownership rights and grant them freedom to make exchanges or not as they see fit.