A battle cry has been ringing all across the internet and throughout many political circles. “Save the internet!” they cry. Unfortunately, the real issues behind so-called “net neutrality” have been completely overlooked by every party whose stance I have been able to track down.

So what exactly is net neutrality and why all of the battle cries?

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), net neutrality is the colloquial term for what they have dubbed the Open Internet. The Open Internet, in turn, is the idea that internet users can equally access any content on the internet. “It’s open because it uses free, publicly available standards that anyone can access and build to, and it treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way. … This openness promotes competition and enables investment and innovation.”

Sounds great, right? So what’s the big deal? Well, late last year the FCC issued the Open Internet Order, which established the rules for preventing internet providers from hiding business practices, blocking content, and “unreasonable” discrimination. This was promptly challenged by Verizon and two major portions were tossed out.

What exists now is a fury of anti-liberty messages disguised as a fight for your rights. This event is a textbook example of unintended consequences, the reactionary nature of government, and, more importantly, the ease with which politicians can amass power under the guise of protecting the people. A brief search of the phrase “save the internet” will produce countless articles, non-profits, and blogs touting essentially the same set of fears: Unless we “save the internet,” only big companies will be able to afford to be seen on the internet.

The first problem this campaign has is the unfounded reliance on government protection. The Open Internet Order is actually a reaction to a previous set of regulatory orders issued by the FCC. In typical government fashion, they are trying to play catch-up with the market. It can safely be assumed that even if the FCC was able to come up with a viable solution to the “problem,” there would likely be multiple negative outcomes which were unforeseen and unintended.

Secondly, this takes the power away from consumers and places it in the hands of bureaucrats. One of the most common complaints given by the Save the Internet crowd is that businesses will be able to pick winners and losers. While this completely exaggerates the power of businesses, it utterly fails to recognize that this very same power which they so fear would be placed squarely in the hands of bureaucrats. Even though the claim is that all traffic would essentially be created equal, this is simply not possible due to physical limitations of networking systems. As has been clearly shown time and again, whenever demand is artificially increased through “free” access while the supply has no incentive to expand, shortages will ensue. Shortages of the internet will come in the fashion of fewer competing technologies, retarding the advancement of networking systems, and a shift of money into other avenues.

The bottom line is that companies need to compete for your business. Internet providers have an incentive to supply fast and cheap internet access. Businesses have an incentive to get “priority” access to potential customers. Eliminating this simply creates a void which will be filled elsewhere with potentially more harmful effects.