Neutrality perspectives

Here's a roundup of various points of view on net neutrality as Congress turns the hot air machine towards net neutrality.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor on

Here's a roundup of various points of view on net neutrality as Congress turns the hot air machine towards net neutrality. Of course, you've seen News.com's wrapup article, too.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, writing on ZDNet's Wired & Wireless Blog:

This is an opportunity for the highest levels of the tech industry to show what the future of the Internet means to them. To be sure, technologists cared about the development of the Internet, both as an experience for consumers and as a technological phenomenon. Some, like Vint Cerf, one of the "fathers" of the Internet, still do. There are many individuals who care as well.

But if the past few months of debate over Net neutrality are any indication, it is hard to know where tech companies really stand. Do any of them really care about those of us who use the Internet, or about the remarkable diversity of content and experience that has grown up around it? Or was the Internet from the start, and remains today, simply a market to sell software, routers, chips or books?

When ex-SBC (now AT&T) Chairman Ed Whitacre starts talking about drastic changes to the Internet, an answer from similar altitude is needed. It takes a Meg Whitman from eBay or Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com to respond. We know the big broadband providers will be in the fight to do what they want with their networks. What we don't yet know is whether the tech industry will stand up for itself and the public.

 Progress & Freedom Foundation, press release on Kyle Dixon's testimony

In his testimony, Dixon stated that such a mandate would worsen conditions faced by application and content providers and would harm investment and innovation in networks. In lieu of such a mandate, Dixon suggests Congress should rely on antitrust enforcement or competitiveness standards in clear cases of market power abuse.

Dixon warned that when considering the need for a network neutrality mandate, lawmakers should keep in mind the current state of consumer welfare in the broadband market. Dixon stated the “expansion of consumer benefits depends on maintaining healthy prospects for each of the Internet's components,” including users, network providers and content developers. Dixon cited the growth of applications on broadband networks currently free of neutrality mandates as proof that such mandates are not needed. Competition among broadband providers and emerging communications technologies, Dixon explained, make such mandates unnecessary.

 Lawrence Lessig, who testifies today, from his blog:

[Howard Waltzman, the telecom committee's majority chief telecom counsel] is right about what a mandated net neutrality requirement would be. It would certainly be a “complete step backward for the Internet” — back to the time when we were world leaders in Internet penetration, and competition kept prices low and services high. Today, in the world where the duopoly increasingly talks about returning us to the world where innovation is as the network owners says, broadband in the US sucks. We are somewhere between 12th and 19th in the world, depending upon whose scale you use. As the Wall Street Journal reported two months ago, broadband in the US is “slow and expensive.” Verizon’s entry-level broadband is $14.95 for 786 kbs. That about $20 per megabit. In FRANCE, for $36/m, you get 20 megabits/s — or about $1.80 per megabit.

How did France get it so good? By following the rules the US passed in 1996, but that telecoms never really followed (and cable companies didn’t have to follow): “strict unbundling.” That’s the same in Japan — fierce competition induced by “heavy handed” regulation producing a faster, cheaper Internet. Now of course, no one is pushing “open access” anymore. Net neutrality is a thin and light substitute for the strategy that has worked in France and Japan. But it is regulation, no doubt.

So while it is true that we have had both:

(a) common carrier like regulation applied to the Internet, and
(b) basically no effective regulation applied to the Internet

and it is true that we have had both:

(c) fast, fierce competition to provide Internet service and
(d) just about the worst broadband service of the developed world

it is not true that we had (c) when we had (b).

We had (c) when we had (a), and we have (d) now that we have (b).

But in the world where the President has the inherent authority to wiretap telephones, who would be surprised if facts didn’t matter much.

Broadband is infrastructure — like highways, if not railroads. If you rely upon “markets” alone to provide infrastructure, you’ll get less of it, and at a higher price. (See, e.g., the United States, today.)

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