The phony maverick Russ Feingold believes the federal government should run the Internet. Kevin Binversie explains why that’s a terrible idea:

It’s often rare for Russ Feingold to expose his true inner left-winger during campaign season; but we got just that according to a report from the La Crosse Tribune on Thursday . They reported the former U.S. Senator believes the time has come for the U.S. government re-classify the Internet as a government-regulated utility.

Democrat Russ Feingold called Thursday for the federal government to treat broadband internet service as a public utility as part of his Badger Innovation Plan.


Feingold called for a “robust” federal program of broadband build-outs by both private and public providers to bring rural residents up to the same level of service as people in the city, at similar rates — similar to federal subsidies in the 1930s that expanded electricity to those same areas.

“This needs to be a utility,” Feingold said. “Everybody needs to have it. You can’t let these three big companies have control.”

Feingold’s plan criticizes congressional efforts to pass legislation limiting net neutrality, which would allow Comcast, AT&T and Charter to charge websites such as Netflix and Google for faster content delivery.

“We have to break the hold of these corporate interests when it comes to something like this,” Feingold said.

If you know anything about the debate over so-called “Net Neutrality,” there are actually three main arguments going on. One on the left, one in the middle being used by those on the left, and one on the right.

Those on the Hard Left, like Feingold and a group known as “Free Press” (which has the Madison Cap Times’ own John Nichols as a co-founder who serves on their board of directors ) which want a government-run Internet. One which they say will better service the people, but will more than likely lead to control on the speed, flow, and content of what people see.

The one in middle, are your typical techno-advocates calling for what they call “The Open Internet” or “Net Neutrality.” Their position can more or less be generalized to “All data should to be treated the same” on the Internet.

That’s fine and all, but no one has yet to find any Internet provider who’s actually has done what they claim could happen if “Net Neutrality” isn’t enacted. What this group actually is, are nothing more than willing patsies who will open the door to federal regulation so the Government-Run Internet guys can get what they want further down the road.

On the Right are critics of the first two groups, who advocate for letting the market do it thing and letting innovation rule the Internet – as it has since Day One. They also point out, that with more and more of the Internet going to mobile devices (iPhones, other mobile devices), that the “Public Utility” folks are tying people down to cords within their homes and other stationary locations.

That’s exactly the point made by Larry Downes, the director of Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy, in an op-ed to the Washington Post this past July.  Downes writes making the Internet a utility; as Feingold now advocates, would be a disaster.

Public utilities don’t compete. Utilities are regulated as monopolies, even if they are not. So any benefits consumers and businesses have realized from competition among broadband-access providers will quickly disappear. And those benefits have been substantial. During the 20 years in which U.S. Internet infrastructure was left largely to engineering-driven self-governance, investors pumped nearly $1.5 trillion into competing network technologies and competing providers, giving the United States four times as many wired connections as any other country, along with the most advanced mobile networks and the most fiber. More U.S. homes have access to broadband than they do indoor plumbing. And except for the very newest high-speed services, U.S. broadband prices are actually lower than they are in price-regulated Europe.

Public utilities don’t innovate. Regulated utilities have no financial incentive to embrace change. As fossil fuels become unsustainable, for example, disruption is now essential in sleepy power utilities. But a recent article in the New Yorker magazine describes how providers often can’t legally invest in alternative energy sources even if their regulated management wanted to, which they don’t. Utilities see increasingly efficient solar power not as a potentially better and cheaper solution but rather as an “existential threat,” the beginning, according to the trade group Edison Electric Institute, of “a death spiral” for its members. “Whereas most enterprises are about risk, utilities are about safety,” the article concludes. “Safe power supply, safe dividends. No surprises.”

Public utilities don’t serve consumers. The cozy relationship between regulated industries and their regulators — their true customer, not us lowly rate payers — invariably leads to competitive inertia, corruption and deteriorating facilities. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives America’s overall infrastructure — both public and public utility — an overall grade of D-minus, requiring an estimated $3.6 trillion just to repair. With the FCC and state regulators already moving to apply their newly discovered regulatory powers to set prices and define specific business practices of broadband-access providers, why do advocates who gripe every time even a modest storm knocks out their electricity imagine anything better for a public-utility Internet?

What Feingold’s really wanting by calling for the Internet to become a public utility isn’t a better experience for consumers; he’s calling for a government takeover; one where he hopes his long-time union buddies get a cut.

Binversie didn’t mention what Feingold, the First Amendment opponent as proven by his unconstitutional McCain-Feingold campaign finance deform bill — government control of Internet content.


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