Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Unpopular Position on Net Neutrality | Stanford Center for Internet and Society

My reasons against--different from those of the broadband providers in many respects--haven't really changed, but let me summarize them before I'm labeled a terrorist:

1. The problem doesn't exist yet - always a bad idea to legislate a future (even if a likely future) breakdown in market forces, especially when the breakdown involves rapidly evolving technologies and, consequently, unstable market dynamics. No provider is currently offering non-neutral pricing, access, or priority.

2. Discriminating may be necessary to optimize network performance - Uses for broadband infrastructure are emerging rapidly, and it isn't entirely clear that discriminating based on content wouldn't be the best way to optimize network performance, whether doing so would add to profits or not for the provider. The cable networks already "discriminate" in favor of programming over Internet traffic for subscribers who get both from the cable company, because the programming needs priority. Content providers are worried that if broadband providers aren't banned from discriminating, they'll someday (soon, perhaps) extract premiums from content providers to get their stuff delivered, or give competitors that option. But some kinds of content should get higher or lower priority as a matter of optimization, and blanket bans on prioritizing may end up making a mess of traffic overall.

3. The federal government is a poor choice for any of this - From defining what is required of a provider to satisfy "neutrality," to developing the rules for enforcement, to operating those rules, the federal government and in particular the FCC are poor choices to solve the problem, assuming the problem exists in the first place. Maybe the Internet has worked so well because neutrality has been a persistent part of the architecture. Maybe it's worked so well because there has been minimal government regulation of its design and operation. Maybe both. More of the latter to shore up the former is a dangerous trade-off.
An Unpopular Position on Net Neutrality | Stanford Center for Internet and Society
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