Net Neutrality

12Nov08

Time Lee has just posted an article at Freedom To Tinker that is pretty well thought through.

With Barack Obama’s election, we’re likely to see a revival of the network neutrality debate. Thus far the popular debate over the issue has produced more heat than light. On one side have been people who scoff at the very idea of network neutrality, arguing either that network neutrality is a myth or that we’d be better off without it. On the other are people who believe the open Internet is hanging on by its fingernails. These advocates believe that unless Congress passes new regulations quickly, major network providers will transform the Internet into a closed network where only their preferred content and applications are available.

So it seems to me that new regulations are unnecessary to protect network neutrality. They are likely to be counterproductive as well. As Ed has argued, defining network neutrality precisely is surprisingly difficult, and enacting a ban without a clear definition is a recipe for problems. In addition, there’s a real danger of what economists call regulatory capture—that industry incumbents will find ways to turn regulatory authority to their advantage. As I document in my study, this is what happened with 20th-century regulation of the railroad, airline, and telephone industries. Congress should proceed carefully, lest regulations designed to protect consumers from telecom industry incumbents wind up protecting incumbents from competition instead.

I think the majority of Lee’s points are sound and worth considering. I do think that he overestimates the power of competitive forces among ISP’s, given that the majority of consumers only have one or two broadband choices, but that doesn’t soften his position too much.

If anyone has a good, reasoned article for the pro-Net Neutrality position, I’d be glad to read it.

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