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The Internet Doesn’t Need Heavy-Handed Regulation

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(anyaberkut/Getty Images) A Facebook VP’s proposal to regulate the Internet would undermine competition, innovation, and free speech.

A founding father of the Internet, Vint Cerf, attributes its astonishing economic success in no small part to “permissionless innovation,” the freedom of Internet developers to try new business models and offer new services without obtaining prior government approval. The clear signal government sends by not overregulating the market is a reason the Internet today is a staple in our lives. Any calls for Internet regulation should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism, and before acting, the government should ensure that proposed Internet regulation is going to provide more consumer benefit than harm.

In a recent essay, Facebook vice president for global affairs and former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claims that U.S. Internet “regulation is overdue” and proposes bipartisan congressional action in four areas. Two of his broad proposals deal with clarifying rules for the removal of illegal content by Internet platforms and enacting federal privacy legislation. These proposals may have some merit but need to be fleshed out.

His other two legislative proposals, however, should be rejected. First, his endorsement of a new federal “digital regulator” with broad powers would stifle innovation and allow established companies to keep potential rivals out of the market. Second, his call for Congress to regulate speech designed to “mislead people and undermine public trust” and speech involving the use of social media in elections is particularly pernicious. Having the government police speech on the Internet is a recipe for widespread suppression of competing viewpoints and violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

First, Clegg’s proposals for a digital regulator overseeing such areas as “content, data, and economic impact — much like the Federal Communications Commission” (FCC) would disincentivize innovation. It would kill the technological dynamism that has characterized the Internet and created enormous wealth and consumer benefit.

The FCC, touted by Clegg, was responsible for delaying technological progress in telecommunications, costing the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars in forgone wealth creation. Regulators also fall into the trap

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