Net Neutrality — unnecessary net regulation?

In response to my Net neutrality – Circa 1996 post, Peter McDoogle writes:

Lets look at the real issue here: the government stepping in where it should not. We dont need congress to step in and make regulations without any real problems to warrant the new laws. “Net Neutrality” will add regulations that slow the process of discovering new technologies and the consumer will flip the bill for this lack of progress.

Other folks comments’ follow along the “government regulation will hurt the internet” theme.

It’s an interesting point, one I generally agree with. However, this situation is complicated by the fact that the LEC is a monopoly on the first mile, and therefore, a monopoly (gatekeeper) for me getting access to the Internet beyond the telco. There are a few minor little problems with the argument above. First, how are we going know when there are “real problems”? If the telco or cableco subtly messes with my access to certain sites or services, who’s going to know? It’s not like I could use an alternative service to compare against.

Second, Govt. regulations do often create overhead and restrict development. In this case however, it’s the telco (or cableco) that has the ability to severely restrict, or totally bring to a stand-still, innovation. The key to internet-based innovation is IP standards and ubiquitous access based on those standards. It means an inventor from Albania to Zimbabwe can imagine and construct services which anyone can access from anywhere. There is no Internet Company deciding which services shall see the light of day. No central entity decides whether a given application is too threatening, too trivial, or too unworthy to be offered to customers. The marketplace decides that. If you can write code, afford to pay for a connection to the internet so potential customers can get to it, your idea may be “the next big thing”. And that’s exactly where things like Google came from. It’s also exactly what the telcos want to end. In the traditional telco space, third-party innovations are non-existant. Innovations are possible only in the unlikely event the phone company agrees. And of course the chance of that is absolutely zero — it doesn’t happen. And now they want to do the same thing to the Internet, where they can play a gatekeeper role, deciding what applications are good and bad, which should see the light of day and which should not.

The potential lost opportunity is what scares me. I started using the net in the eighties. We had a net back then. We used it. We thought it was cool. But you know what? HTTP and the web hadn’t been invented yet. We see arguments now that say things like “hey, as long as I can get email and and surf the web, what else do I need?” What if we said the same thing about the internet as it was in 1987 (or 1993, or 1998, or 2001, etc)? We would never have seen the web. We would be using today the same net we had back then. You can’t assume the world will stay the same. It’s what we won’t have in the future by accepting the status quo today that scares the heck out of me. What consumer (voter) is going to complain to their congressman about not having an application/feature/service that doesn’t even exist yet?

Does that mean I support Net Neutrality regulation? Frankly, I don’t think so, at least not as I’ve seen it proposed. However, we need to begin some dialog on this matter. It would be a crying shame to let the telcos kill innovation on the net without a fight.

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