When word got out that the FCC agreed to the terms of the Bell South/AT&T merger with a supposed caveat that Net Neutrality principals must be followed for a good spell, one might have expected that the advocates for NN legislation would be able to build some momentum going into a new Democratic Congress.
Instead, there's been murkiness and disagreement over who "won" the merger deal; respected Internet experts coming out against legislation; and, a neat trick of turning the rhetorical tide back on a lead legislative advocate.
Four very smart people weigh in today with a Washington Post op-ed piece that argues against imposing net neutrality requirements on broadband providers. David Farber, professor of computer science and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, Michael Katz, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley (and former top economist at both the FCC and DOJ), Gerald Faulhaber, a professor at the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, and Christopher Yoo, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, argue that net neutrality laws could stiflle innovation without providing any consumer benefits.
They make a valid case that some kinds of discrimination make intuitive (and probably social and economic) sense, such as ensuring that a patient’s heart monitor gets higher priority than a music download during periods of network congestion. To bar all forms of discrimination might mean harming, not helping, consumers. It’s just not clear “to determine in advance whether a particular practice promotes or harms competition,” they write.
It's not new that any of these professors are against pre-emptive legislation. But, the collective effort, the timing of the op-ed and the placement in the very-tough-to-get Washington Post is what is notable.
Over at Beet.TV, another Internet OG, Esther Dyson, throws around the "muddle" word and says:
The biggest problem that net neutrality has is nobody knows what they’re talking about when they talk about it. The issue is who pays and whether they’re monopolies or not, so there’s a whole lot of, I think, disingenuous discussion about control without ever really looking at the fundamental issue, which is somebody’s got to pay for more bandwidth if consumers are gonna be uploading and downloading video.
Finally, GigaOm's Paul Kapustka weighs in today with how the telcos are shifting the neutrality argument toward Google...
The latest round in the battle over net neutrality has started, and as usual the telcos have their game plan sussed out and in widespread, synchronized action. The message? Google is bad, and wants to control the Internet to keep its cash pile growing. Telcos, meanwhile, just want to innovate, so please don’t write laws keeping them from doing so.
Sometimes this message is blatant, as David Isenberg notes in a recent post about a speech given by Verizon’s general counsel, William Barr. According to Isenberg, Barr hit many of the main telco vs. Google points: Google has more market cap than we do, Google and other Internet players hired a lot of lobbyists, and because of Google’s success, it has more control over the Internet than those who own and operate the routers. Said Barr:
Google is the gateway on the Internet, because it stands between you and the stuff you want to find. It has more of a choke hold than [Verizon].
You expect that kind of stuff from the telcos, who are great at lobbying, and know how to effectively spin messages that aren’t necessarily true. But facts aren’t really important in opinion battles like this...
Three quick observations from this, generally, net neutrality-minimalist front:
- We wonder if this will be the year that start-ups actually get involved in the debate one way or another. Or, at the very least, whether Google will take advantage of some of that YouTube mojo to get Chad Hurley out talking about the issue. (BTW, also wonder if YouTube has stayed out of the fray, to date, because of deal-making realpolitik with service providers).
- Nearly everyone smart seems to look at the NN issue, shrug and then confidently confide that "the real issue here is broadband competition." Why isn't this played up more?
- And, considering the broadband competition issue and the general lack of a cohesive or intellectually honest national broadband strategy, maybe this reality will help industry eventually unify around making sure that net neutrality enforcement becomes basically a moot point.