Net Neutrality Supporters: “STOP While You’re Ahead”

June 15, 2006 - 1 Comment

SAN JOSE, CA – So, there seems to be a bit of panic in the pro-net neutrality camp these days. There shouldn’t be. There seemingly is little support in the Congress for regulating the Internet. Non-regulation, as we all know historically, is what has made the Internet the success that it is, but that’s beside the point. My point is this: there is a question in a Daily Kos blog today that basically says, (I’m paraphrasing, but you can read the entry yourself): if net neutrality is NOT regulated into law, can “we” challenge that law as unconstitutional because it harms the 1st amendment on freedom of the press grounds. I can connect A to Q and know where the question is coming from based on the net neutrality argument of “BLOCKING” access, but puh-lease.If you are a net neutrality supporter, here’s the only reason you need to stop while you are ahead: In a MarketWatch by Dow Jones article yesterday, it says Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) said lawmakers would form long lines in the rush to craft Net-neutrality rules if network operators actually began to discriminate against popular Web sites. (Full article here). (Full disclosure: I worked for Senator Biden from 1993 to 1995.)That would close the case for me.But, wait, there’s MORE…the article further states that the FTC Chief and the FCC Chairman have already said they have the authority to step in IF there are bad actors in the broadband service provider space. Which may be why in an article in The Wall Street Journal, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) said, “I think this is legislation in search of a problem.” Well said, Senator.So, net-neutrality crowd…while you are ahead…while you have some credibility…please stop…the sky, indeed, is not falling.

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  1. Hi John,Some random thoughts.I think net neutrality may be the last vestige of common carriage regulation. The following article written in 1994 by Eli Noam titled Beyond Liberalization II: The Impending Doom of Common Carriage”” seems extraordinarily prescient. excerpt from the article:“”This article argues that the institution of common carriage, historically the foundation of the way telecommunications are delivered, will not survive. To clarify: “”common carriers”” (the misnomer often used to refer to telephone companies) will continue to exist, but the status under which they operate — offering service on a non-discriminatory basis, neutral as to use and user — will not.This conclusion is reached with considerable reluctance. Common carriage, after all, is of substantial social value. It extends free speech principles to privately-owned carriers. It is an arrangement that promotes interconnection, encourages competition, assists universal service, and reduces transaction costs.Ironically, it is not the failure of common carriage but rather its very success that undermines the institution. By making communications ubiquitous and essential, it spawned new types of carriers and delivery systems. But the argument is not that the blows to traditional common carriage originate from regular competition by new rival telecom carriers operating as common carriers, too. Rather, the pressure on common carriers come from two other directions: next-generation private networks offered by systems integrators; and broadband services offered by cable television operators. Neither operates as a common carrier, nor is it likely to. The conclusion of this article is that it will not be possible for traditional common carriage to prevail in head- to- head competition with contract carriage. In consequence, we are likely to witness a gradual erosion of the common carriage principle among those carriers that today are held to it by regulation and common law.””(As a side note: I believe common carriage *regulation* had a lot to do with the growth of dial-up ISPs and hence played a significant role in the history of the internet. That is, it’s hard to imagine the phone companies and cable companies deploying “”open”” access DSL and Cable MODEM service without first seeing the business models, and customer demand, which supported it. Also worth remembering was during AOL’s early days it tried to keep customers on its private network, and hence it’s content, but cusomters demanded “”internet”” (open access and neutral interconnection) instead. Fortunately, dial-up ISPs were there to offer it and AOL had to switch to internet access as its primary offering. This was the first existence proof that selling internet access to the public was, and is, a profitable business, and is preferred by customers over early-AOL or Cable-TV like closed networks. Without the common carriage based alternative, it’s hard to know what would have happened.I believe a great component in the power of communications requires neutrality of the interconnections. I also believe the network providers must make a return on investment and “”exclusion”” will be necessary for the product or service to be a viable offering. Hence the dillemma our market based society faces. (The early days of radio were probably very similar )A final side note, the recent testimony by a Sprint executive to Congress about special access deregulation in the wireless industry (i.e the backhaul links from cell tower to switching station) says deregulation there has harmed mobile broadband. Mobile broadband does seem to be in it’s infancy. It’s an interesting read.