We Still Need Net Neutrality Legislation - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
7/4/2007
09:30 AM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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We Still Need Net Neutrality Legislation

We haven't heard much about net neutrality legislation lately. That could be because the current Congress might actually be able to pass it, and opponents like AT&T and Verizon are laying low, spreading lobbying money, and trying to wait out that shocking possibility. That makes the Federal Trade Commission's anti-net neutrality announcement last week even more puzzling. Was it intended as a warning from the Bush administration to Congress to back off, or was it yet another shake of the money tr

We haven't heard much about net neutrality legislation lately. That could be because the current Congress might actually be able to pass it, and opponents like AT&T and Verizon are laying low, spreading lobbying money, and trying to wait out that shocking possibility. That makes the Federal Trade Commission's anti-net neutrality announcement last week even more puzzling. Was it intended as a warning from the Bush administration to Congress to back off, or was it yet another shake of the money tree?The news story about the FTC report notes that "the FTC sided with high-speed Internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon," and trotted out once again hollow justifications like "such rules could stifle innovation" and ""This report recommends that policy makers proceed with caution in the evolving, dynamic industry of broadband Internet access, which generally is moving toward more -- not less - competition," which it probably didn't even think up itself, but copied from industry propaganda.

The paradox is that these providers have been working very hard to stifle innovation and move toward less competition for years - take their well-funded resistance, at both national and state levels, to public WiFi and similar local initiatives, for example. U.S. Internet service providers deliver less service for higher prices than many other countries around the world. In April, when the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held hearings on broadband in this country versus others, the committee heard that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had just lowered the United States to the number 15 spot on the list.

Technological innovation in broadband access is a threat to corporate profits, and the FTC report comes down on the side not of the public interest but of the private interests.

As a government policy, this isn't working. Communication Workers of America union puts it this way:

Our reliance on market forces, deregulation, and inadequate governmental programs has not served us well. We invest relatively less on communications; we are charged more for slower speeds; millions encounter a significant digital divide based on income and geography, and unionized jobs with good wages and benefits are being replaced by low-wage jobs with less training and higher turnover.

Of course, the CWA has a vested interest in this - the more broadband Internet access there is in the United States, the more jobs there will be for well-trained, well-paid members of their union. But that's a better fit with the public interest than the FTC's position, as far as I can tell.

The idea that net neutrality would somehow diminish competition is a strange one that I've never seen actually explained. It's almost as strange as the FTC's contention that we we live in a country where "the evolving, dynamic industry of broadband Internet access . . . generally is moving toward more -- not less -- competition," in the words of FTC chairman Deborah Majoras.

Where exactly does she live? Not where Gigi Sohn and I live. Ms. Sohn is the president of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group, and she said of the FCC report, ""Despite the fervent wishes of the FTC staff, there is not a competitive market for high-speed Internet services. New technologies, particularly wireless technologies, are not soon going to have the same robust qualities or market penetration as the duopoly cable and telephone-company services." That's the situation in my town, and in most towns across America where you can get high-speed broadband access at all.

Another quote from the Reuters piece I loved: "Proposals to impose new regulation actually threaten further advancements in broadband Internet connections. That hurts consumers by denying them new and better services," said Verizon executive vice president Tom Tauke.

Verizon and AT&T and Comcast and other high-speed Internet service providers have seemed to be far more interested in innovating their revenues by cutting themselves into the content business than in innovating their technology. Net neutrality legislation would help drive innovation by clarifying the service provider's business and focusing them on actually advancing broadband Internet connections, which this country sorely needs, as a way of building their bottom lines. That's what the FTC and the FCC should be working on - how to get higher access speeds and truly innovative delivery technologies into the marketplace, not protecting their corporate masters from having to compete with them.

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