A compromise on net neutrality is possible

From Bloomberg

Are you ready for another fight over network neutrality? It's coming.

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, plans to dismantle rules put in place in 2015 that require internet service providers to treat all content travelling through their pipes equally. The rules prohibit the ISPs from blocking or "throttling" certain web traffic, and from offering "fast lanes" for content providers who pay for the privilege.

Pai wants to undo all that. His proposal also would reclassify ISPs as information services instead of common carriers, thereby relinquishing much of the FCC's authority over them. Instead, the ISPs would simply have to disclose their policies to customers, and the Federal Trade Commission would monitor whether they were living up to their end of the deal.

This is a crazy way to set policy.

The rules put in place under President Barack Obama survived a brutal lobbying onslaught, passionate debate, and a tangle of legal challenges. Companies changed their business plans, consumers adjusted their expectations, and lawyers collected their fees. Now the rules may be overturned because a new administrator has other ideas. Such an arbitrary and partisan cycle will discourage investors and entrepreneurs.

A better approach is for Congress to enshrine net-neutrality rules into law. A reasonable compromise is in view: Maintain the prohibition on banning or throttling apps and services, which would be anticompetitive, while allowing the ban on "fast lanes" to be superseded when it would benefit consumers.

Such a deal would ensure that ISPs don't abuse their role. It would allow for flexible pricing plans and new business models while protecting consumers. And in passing a law, it would provide a measure of certainty.

In such a polarized moment, such a compromise may seem unlikely. But a functioning internet is in everyone's interest.