Net neutrality: Everybody has one


Opinions – we’re talking opinions, ladies and gentlemen. On one side are the people who think that the small innovators, entrepreneurs and creators need ultimate protection from discrimination from the large companies that necessarily will run the internet infrastructure. One the other, those saying there will be no large companies running it because they will decide not to invest.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski came out strongly in favor of the network neutrality concept. He says it is important for both consumers and businesses. And it can’t be a wired internet solution – it must extend to wireless and mobile carriers as well. He is supported by both of the Democratic FCC commissioners, while the two Republican commissioners are skeptical of the need for this layer of regulation. An NPRM will be kicked off next month, a process that promises to drag on for some time, but with the advantage clearly on the side of net neutrality.

Several key legislators have weighed in on the topic.

Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has been working the net neutrality concept in the Senate Commerce Committee. He said, “An open and democratic Internet is necessary in order to allow innovation, economic opportunities, and consumer benefits to flourish, and it is critical that we maintain this access. I applaud today’s announcement by the FCC that they will begin to create rules in support of net neutrality…By ensuring that consumers and online businesses can use the Internet without interference from broadband service providers, net neutrality will prevent the advent of haves and have-nots. This principle of open access has been the cornerstone of the Internet’s growth so far, and is vital to its continued success in the future.”

Ed Markey (D-MA) added, “”I commend Chairman Genachowski’s announcement that he intends to circulate proposed rules to establish openness, transparency and non-discrimination as guiding Internet principles in the near future. This is a significant step towards preserving the free and open nature that has enabled the Internet to become a platform for innovation, job-creation and economic growth. I hope the full Commission follows Chairman Genachowski’s lead in this vital effort.”

Dorgan’s colleague in the Commerce Committee had a different opinion however. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said, “I am deeply concerned by the direction the FCC appears to be heading. Even during a severe downturn, America has experienced robust investment and innovation in network performance and online content and applications. For that innovation to continue, we must tread lightly when it comes to new regulations.  Where there have been a handful of questionable actions in the past on the part of a few companies, the Commission and the marketplace have responded swiftly.  The case has simply not been made for what amounts to a significant regulatory intervention into a vibrant marketplace.  These new regulatory mandates and restrictions could stifle investment incentives.”

How about a pair of dueling watchdogs? We have statements from Free Press and the CompetitiveEnterprise Institiute.

Free Press’s Josh Silver said, “The debate over Net Neutrality at times has felt like a marathon, but today the finish line is in sight. Chairman Genachowski’s speech today shows the FCC intends to follow through on President Obama’s pledge to protect the free and open Internet. This is a tremendous day for millions of us who have been clamoring to keep the Internet free from discrimination — but it’s even more important for the hundreds of millions of Internet users for whom Net Neutrality will safeguard economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech online. We applaud Chairman Genachowski, Commissioner Copps and Commissioner Clyburn for taking a strong stand to promote competition and consumer choice. We look forward to working with the FCC to developing permanent rules that keep the Internet open and free for everyone forever.”

CEI’s Wayne Crews said, “FCC bureaucrats should abstain from choosing business models. Agencies should not pick sides between content and infrastructure providers in disputes over pricing, access, service and other terms. When government dictates business models, it fuels artificial conflicts between content and infrastructure firms by driving a wedge between what are otherwise complementary, harmonious, and often synergistic visions. ‘Net Neutrality’ is an anti-competitive, pro-bureaucratic construction. The so-called ‘principle’ of regulated non-discrimination is an incoherent abhorrence. It advances the aims of regulators and transitory special interests, not consumers.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Put us on the side of the innovators on this one. The internet should be like a phone, to the extent that is possible – the common carrier doesn’t consider what your message is, it just passes along the call.

We do not find it impossible to believe that big companies controlling the gates would favor their own services.
But we do find it difficult to believe that companies interested in having a future will stay away from the internet. They can’t. That’s where the future is. That’s where the money is. They will make their investments.

Genachowski has experience as a businessman in this field. It is commendable that he is concerned about the internet experience of the average consumer and the small business and the unknown innovator. But he also knows what it’s like to have real money anted up. He may be the perfect choice to navigate a path that makes as many people happy as possible.

The bottom line is that whether he is or he isn’t, he has the votes – in the Senate, in the House, and at the FCC. And there’s a good friend who gave Genachowski his choice of jobs sitting in the White House with a pen ready to sign off on all of it.