The Federal Communications Commission should look to what other countries are doing as it considers regulating high-speed Internet service providers.
President Barack Obama weighed in on the question of new neutrality this week, saying the government should regulate the providers much like it did telephone companies almost a century ago.
Arguments for regulating Internet service providers as utilities include ensuring that everyone has the same access. Left unregulated, the government says companies like Comcast or Verizon would create two-tiered systems in which fast service would go to those that could pay while others were regulated to slower service. They say innovation would be crippled if companies like Hulu or Netflix were relegated to lower quality service.
Those arguing against regulating service providers say Internet service providers say it isn't fair that they can't get back some of the costs from companies that use a lot of broadband space, and they say that regulating the providers will lead them to cut back on investments and new technology.
According to the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union 2013 report on Internet connectivity, the U.S. is tied for second with Kuwait for broadband prices as a percent of income. China was at the top of the list.
But pricing and level of access depends largely on where you happen to live, whether there are competing providers and what the market is willing to pay.
Republicans who will be taking control of the Senate and who already control the House indicate they aren't interested in regulating high-speed Internet service providers like a utility. And to be sure, while the 1934 Telecommunications Act may have worked for telephone companies, there is little in the regulations that would carry over into the Internet debate.
But the Internet since the beginning has developed under the principle of net neutrality, fostering years of innovation that has moved communication forward by leaps and bounds.
In short, arguments can be made for and against regulation. Ultimately what it comes down to, though, is that like running water or electricity in your home, people today consider access to the Internet in much the same was as they consider basic utilities.
Examining how other countries have approached the problem would provide insights into what level of regulation, if any, is necessary, as well as the cost implications that come with any actions.
The debate will continue to evolve as the FCC looks come up with a regulatory framework, and the outcome will impact everyone who is connected to the Internet through the level of service and price they will end up paying. As such, it is an issue we should all be paying close attention to in the coming months.