Thursday, July 20, 2006


As promised, here are what I think are the main arguments against net neutrality. Some of them overlap quite a bit, but I'm trying to go for full coverage here, so please do bear with me.

ARGUMENT #1: The government should not be involved in any "heavy-handed regulation" (Ted Stevens quote) before the need for such regulation becomes obvious.

ARGUMENT #2: Broadband network providers have built much of the existing backbone of what we call the internet. If we want something even better, someone's going to have to pay for it. Broadband network providers will create the next-generation internet if we let them finance it through a tiered system.
Addendum: this will hit rural and low-income citizens hardest, as they continue to wait for the full benefits of the internet. The improvements our low-income and rural friends want so much will be delayed all the longer, because the process of improving the internet will be bogged down by net neutrality requirements.
Addendum: if net neutrality is established by the government, big content providers will occupy many of the resources of network providers. This will push the expense of broadband rollout to the consumers (paraphrase from letter to NY Times editor by Mike McCurry and Christopher Wolf)

ARGUMENT #3: The free market will solve a lot of problems that net neutrality advocates say will occur if net neutrality bills don't pass. Consumers simply won't tolerate the doomsday scenario of tiered service. The market will find a way for us to continue accessing all that we want to access. The market for internet connections is sufficiently competitive to respond to consumer demand.

ARGUMENT #4: The defeat of net neutrality will make it so that the market continues to offer incentives to develop new forms of high-speed content delivery. The material that is clogging up the 'series of tubes' (video and audio streams, in particular) will be delivered more efficiently if there is a market-derived impetus to support video and audio streams. Net neutrality would prevent such an impetus from forming.

So, there you have it. This is why some folks say net neutrality won't work.

What do I think? I think it's a good idea to pay attention to the interests involved in any policy debate. The interests in this debate work to pit the network providers against the content providers and consumers. I can't find any consumer groups that take up the cause of the network providers. Though I think it's naive to presume that content providers are acting in the interests of 'freedom,' I do think net neutrality is workable, appropriate, and generally a good idea. But, you know, I'm far more fascinated with the arguments of those with whom I disagree.


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