McAdams On: Network Neutrality
9/25/2009 11:36:58 AM
FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski’s approach to developing a nationwide broadband plan is a hot
potato. He’s proposing network neutrality rules to prevent Internet Service
Providers from imposing content discrimination or bandwidth chokepoints.
The concept evolved out of peer-to-peer technologies
that obliterated established content business models. Proponents consider
network neutrality crucial to the continued unbridled development of new
technologies. Opponents say some sort of traffic control is necessary to keep
the tubes open, otherwise the biggest data users--folks watching movies and TV
shows, for a simplified example--will slow down the system for everyone else.
Such a traffic jam occurred July 16, when 17-year-old Zac Sunderland sailed
into Marina del Rey, Calif., becoming the youngest individual to sail around
the world solo. News organizations of every stripe were in the Marina, clearly
logging on. Data-dense Web sites suddenly became unavailable in the surrounding
area. There was no accessing CNN, The New
York Times, The Washington Post
or any of the major information portals. Less data-heavy sites loaded. The
example is anecdotal, but when Sunderland broke out for a shower and some
lunch, Internet access returned to normal.
The notion of keeping the Internet as open as possible to everyone imaginable
is appealing. The most innovative structures on it were coded out in college
dorm rooms and the like--by folks without the simoleons to pay for an elite
level of service. Some serious commerce grew out of ideas like eBay and
Facebook. It would be a shame to kill the dynamic that brought them
On the other hand, those cyber empires were built on a private-sector
infrastructure. There would be no Internet without the phone or cable
companies. It’s not often one finds oneself defending telcos and cable
companies, two of the most influential industries in Washington, D.C., but in
this case, their interests speak to legal precedent about how much the government
can regulate the operations of private enterprise.
Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with it. Network neutrality may appear to assure the
preservation of Web-related innovation, but what motivation does it leave
service providers with to fiber up those last miles?
In this case, competition seems the obvious answer. The fed has already
endorsed a nationwide broadband plan and opened to the TV spectrum to support
the effort. The endgame should be choice. That may seem phantasmagorically
ideal, given that pay TV competition is a joke in many areas. But you don’t
have to pay for TV reception to get TV reception.
There’s free TV. Why not free broadband? Note that 80 million U.S. households
continue to pay for TV even though it’s available for free. Free broadband
might stack up similarly, using an ad-supported model; and posing no threat to
the established carriers.
I’m sure there are better ideas; just as I’m sure there are better ideas than
network neutrality, which virtually guarantees a $1 billion court battle.
Nothing against lawyers, but the energy, intellect and money sure to be applied
to a network neutrality fight would be better spent on more creative