Net Neutrality Foes Have It All Wrong

My first reaction to the speech by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski about the FCC's interest in pursuing a foundation of Net neutrality was: finally. Finally we might be able to have some backing from the government in a quest for the obvious -- that big ISPs should not have the right to pick and choose what traffic is delivered based on boardroom decisions and the squeals of shareholders. That the Internet should continue to be open for everyone with a connection at home or access to a library.

Naturally, there are those in government who think this is a terrible idea -- namely, Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tx). She has introduced an amendment to an unrelated bill that would bar the FCC from pursuing this action. If this passes, there will be no way for the FCC to fund development of regulations to mandate free and open networks within the United States. If I read the fine print correctly (and IANAL), the FCC would be powerless to control the actions of the big carriers.

[ FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has enumerated six principles to safeguard an open Internet. | Keep up on the day's tech news headlines with InfoWorld's Today's Headlines: First Look newsletter. ]

The justification Hutchinson uses for this amendment is that mandating Net neutrality would "stifle innovation," and "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." Here is my reply:

Dear Senator Hutchinson:

I'm sorry, Senator, you have it backward. If the big ISPs are allowed to play free and easy with packets traversing their networks, innovation will plummet. Only those companies that can afford to tithe the big ISPs will get to play in the "publicly accessible" Internet, and those that can't afford to do so will simply cease to exist as an entity on the network -- traffic to their sites can and will simply be throttled to ridiculous levels or tossed entirely. Make no mistake: You're advocating and encouraging a legal nationwide protection racket.

Please understand that the Internet is not and never will be a parallel for any other communications medium. It is not analogous to cable TV, it is not analogous to the PSTN, it is a completely separate and unique entity that has nearly single-handedly revolutionized the world socially, financially, and politically. The linchpin of this success is the free and unfettered delivery of data from one point to another. By allowing quasi-monopolies to control whether or not that data is delivered is a most horrible idea.

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