You're driving down Main Street when you get a craving for chicken. But when you try to pull off to your favorite restaurant, concrete barricades block your way. You drive on, willing to try a burger joint your friend told you about. The restaurant pops into view, but this time there's no driveway at all.
Famished, you settle for pizza, even though you're not in the mood. It just happens the pizzeria has three entrances, its own turn lane, and an arrow painted in the road.
We wouldn't let this happen in the real world. But if a bill that just came before the U.S. House becomes law, big telecom companies could start making it happen online.
While America waited for Congress to pass a budget, the House voted on a bill to overturn regulations for Internet service providers. While thousands of federal employees continued to worry about whether they could come to work Monday, House Republicans' priority instead was soothing the worries of Big Telecom.
To be clear, I don't think the FCC's recent rules go nearly far enough to protect net neutrality. But I voted against their repeal because I think the FCC should be doing more, not less.
I appreciate the intent of the FCC rules -- and believe the agency should have the authority to make them -- but they give ISPs too much room to manipulate the Internet user's experience. Many loopholes allow these companies to pave the information superhighway with fast lanes and dead ends.
My major concern is that the rules exempt mobile networks from many of the new regulations, allowing them to discriminate against certain kinds of traffic, block a competitor's application, or charge a premium for website prioritization. As more and more people reach the Internet by mobile phone, we should make sure users are getting the open access they believe they're paying for.
The FCC can and indeed should do more to protect the Internet as the free and open environment people have come to expect and depend on -- which is why we need to stand up to attacks on the FCC's authority. Damaging pieces of legislation like the one I voted against this week are steps in the wrong direction.
Roadblocks, unfair advantages, and pay-to-play do not make a free market. It works best when consumers can make their own decisions about what to buy and from whom to buy it. A company's best advantage should be a quality product offered at the right price. That fair competition is what drives innovation.
This is especially true of the Internet, where openness has given power to consumers and innovative businesses. People's mouse clicks decide what businesses, services, and content succeed. Users have equal access to tiny businesses with viral ideas and blue-chip companies, allowing these enterprises to compete on their own merits. It's how so many small start-ups have been able to become Internet success stories.
But the Internet will be a different place if we rig the playing field. It's not right to give service providers the opportunity to stop or discourage you from making your own decisions. You shouldn't have to eat pizza when you really want chicken.