NewsHour had a great debate tonight about the ongoing debate in Washington on the future of the Internet.
At first blush, the position of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, eBay, and others seems logical. Efforts by the oligopoly that controls the bulk of the Internet, phone companies and cable television providers, in an effort to maximize profits could have a profound impact on the growth of the Internet. At the same time, the libertarian in me considers it odd that proposals for net neutrality are basically government regulation of the Internet.
So, here is my take.
I see no reason why we, as consumers, should be expected to bear the brunt of the costs for Internet development. To be sure, I gladly pay a local ISP to connect to the Internet, and actually pay for the fastest connection offered by the ISP, even though I don’t really need that much bandwidth.
However, since most consumers want to pay as little as possible for their Internet connection, and given the inherent cost of developing and innovating to grow the Internet, it is conceivable that the Net Neutrality bill would either raise consumer prices or stunt the growth.
I believe that could be the ulitmate problem. Google, Microsoft, et al could be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. While most bloggers have been quick to support net neutrality, I tend to agree with David Farber, one of the real inventors of the Internet:
The central policy principle should be to prevent anticompetitive actions and reduce associated harms without impeding the Internet’s evolution. Current proposals would affect all broadband providers regardless of whether they wield monopoly power and without any analysis of whether the challenged practice actually harms competition. In the process, they threaten to restrict a wide range of innovative services without providing compensating customer benefits. The problem is that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to determine in advance whether a particular practice would promote or harm competition. Current antitrust law solves this problem by blocking practices only when those who oppose them can demonstrate actual harm to competition. We believe that such a case- by-case approach that focuses on actual, rather than potential, harm to competition represents the best way to protect consumers while giving the Internet the breathing room it needs to move forward. Blanket regulation, which some network neutrality initiatives support, is not a good policy choice.
Public policy toward the Internet should evolve to meet our future needs. To accomplish this, policymakers should frame the issues in terms of how to make customers better off, rather than focusing on the impact on particular traffic or particular competitors. This framing would highlight the potential benefits to customers that shifting away from the current architecture of the Internet could yield. It would also ensure that any regulatory intervention would be tailored to the precise scope of the anticompetitive harm. (Source)
Finally, let me add this thought. Many people have raised the thought that the phone and cable companies will threaten access to diverse opinions. I do not believe this is true. I understand the potential for such abuse, but since nearly all consumers have at least two ISP’s to consider, the market will require that the private sector not limit access based on the content of the pages being loaded.
(Sidenote: Consider Google. It is clearly the most popular search engine in the world. They make a lot of money through companies who pay for their sites to appear in their searches. Yet, no one talks about how their ‘page rank’ system is a threat to the first amendment. To the contrary, their algorthims are proprietary and no one is asking for the government to step in and force them to remove any weights from their search results.)
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