Internet

Net Neutrality: Battle of the Corporate Titans

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Net neutrality is often portrayed as a fight over whether or not we want big corporations to control the Internet. But the truth is that there are big corporations on both sides of the debate. From the Wall Street Journal:

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission made good on its promise to push new rules that would require Internet providers such as AT&T to deliver Web traffic without delay.

Broadly, that means cable and phone companies couldn't block or slow access to services from Google, Netflix or others that are a drain on their networks or could compete with their businesses.But as the details of the new rules are hammered out in coming months, AT&T and Google are ramping up efforts to ensure the FCC doesn't impose rules that could hurt their profits or expansion plans.

Plenty of lobbyists have made their concerns about the FCC's proposal known to their political allies over the past few weeks. But AT&T lobbyists were particularly active, swarming Capitol Hill and state houses, prompting a bipartisan mix of governors, congressmen and senators to send worried letters to the FCC. Two big labor unions have taken out newspaper ads attacking the new rules.

"Google to date has gotten relatively a free pass that they're somehow promoting the public good on net neutrality as opposed to, what I see, is that they're trying to entrench their business model," said Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior regulatory lawyer in Washington. Google responded this week with letters of support from dozens of technology-company CEOs and venture capitalists.

Cato's Jim Harper says:

It is clear that the debate is about one set of corporate interests battling another set of corporate interests about the Internet, each seeking to protect or strengthen its business model. The FCC is surfing the debate pursuing a greater role for itself, meaning more budget and power.

Tim Lee's paper, The Durable Internet, dispells the idea that owners of Internet infrastructure can actually control the Internet. The better approach to "net neutrality" is to let Internet users decide what they want from their ISPs and to let ISPs and content companies do unmediated battle with one another to create and capture the greatest value from the Internet ecosystem. If the FCC were to reduce its power by freeing up more wireless spectrum—either selling it as property or dedicating it to commons treatment—competition to provide Internet service would strengthen consumers' hands.

I wrote a primer on Net neutrality here, and I wrote about the new FCC Chairman's plans to transform the agency into a "smart cop" on the Web beat here