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Net neutrality, needed or not?

Network neutrality regulation is necessary, proponents say, to ensure that ISPs treat all traffic in a neutral fashion and don't try to enrich themselves by meddling with the bits. Poppycock, naysayers respond. Service providers have always behaved and there is no reason to introduce regulations that could slow down this critical engine of commerce.

Moderator

John Dix, Network World Editor in Chief, sets up the debates and recruits the experts. Contact him with thoughts and ideas, jdix@nww.com.

The experts

Scott Cleland, Chairman of NetCompetition.org,

says there isn't one thing to like about net neutrality regulation, it isn't needed and, worse, it is unwise.

M. Chris Riley, policy counsel for Free Press,

says every major Internet business, from Google to Facebook, is the product of the open Internet and open access remains essential for their businesses and the next Internet start-ups that will rise to challenge them.

No need for net neutrality regulation

Net neutrality regulation is unnecessary, unjustified, unwarranted, unproductive, unwise, unpopular and unlawful.

In sum, it is unbelievable that the political debate over net neutrality regulation must continue when net neutrality proponents’ arguments are so devoid of merit, justification, evidence, productivity, wisdom, popularity, or lawfulness.

Net neutrality regulation is unnecessary; it is a solution in search of a problem. Internet users have long enjoyed access to the lawful content of their choice without any government intervention. During the last eight years, 2,000 U.S. broadband providers have completed literally quadrillions of Internet transmissions without incident. The FCC's December net neutrality decision is akin to the government regulating all beaches because they found a problem with one or two grains of sand. The FCC's net neutrality regulation is the ultimate in regulatory overreach and overkill.

Net neutrality regulation is unjustified. The FCC's Open Internet Order included: no market analysis indicating market failure to justify intervention; no assessment of the insufficiency of competition to justify abandoning 15-year-old competition policy; and no cost benefit analysis to show the speculative benefits of preemptive action would outweigh the real costs of Internet regulation. Ironically, the FCC's net neutrality regulation runs directly counter to President Obama's January Executive Order mandating "least burdensome" regulation in order to promote economic growth and job creation.  

Net neutrality regulation is unwarranted. The entire broadband industry fully supports their customers being free to access lawful Internet content of their choice. When the complaint arose about Comcast's use of network management tools that limited BitTorrent, Comcast worked cooperatively with BitTorrent and others to collaboratively find a new acceptable, non-discriminatory, and reasonable network management approach.

Additionally, the broadband industry created a collaborative engineering working group (BITAG) to resolve network management issues without the need of government involvement, building upon the proven successful model of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Amazingly, the FCC offered no rationale why the FCC was better suited to resolve Internet engineering disputes than industry.

Net neutrality regulation is unproductive. Historically communications legislation has been bipartisan and near unanimous. The 1996 Telecom Act, which had the purpose of "promoting competition and reducing regulation," passed Congress near unanimously. That deep bipartisan consensus around promoting competition has been destroyed by some radical net neutrality proponents, who have unproductively polarized large swaths of communications policy by engaging in negative political campaign tactics of demonization and unsubstantiated allegations. The result has been an unproductive policy climate of controversy, fear, distrust, uncertainty, and liability that undermines productive investment, economic growth and job creation.

Net neutrality regulation is unwise. The age old wisdom of the Hippocratic Oath applies here: “first, do no harm.” So does the bedrock common sense notion: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Net neutrality regulation is unpopular. Prior to the mid-term election, 302 members of Congress, a majority, wrote the FCC to urge the FCC to defer to Congress on net neutrality. In the 2010 mid-term election, all 95 candidates that signed a public pledge to support net neutrality regulation lost. Tellingly, net neutrality regulation went 0-95 in the only proxy referendum of the national electorate. Since the November mid-term election, and the FCC's December vote, a majority of the House has voted to defund the FCC's implementation of the order, and a formal Resolution of Disapproval of the FCC's net neutrality regulation is expected to pass by a majority of the House and possibly by a majority of the Senate. The evidence is overwhelming that net neutrality regulation is the single most politically unpopular FCC ruling in decades.

Net neutrality regulation is unlawful. Less than a year ago, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in Comcast vs. the FCC that the FCC did not have statutory authority to regulate broadband. If the FCC disagreed with that ruling, they should have appealed to the Supreme Court for vindication and resolution. Tellingly, the FCC did not. To make matters worse, the FCC's Open Internet Order repeated its previous grievous legal mistake by self-asserting near boundless implicit, or ancillary, legal authority to regulate anything that communications touches. Given that the U.S. Constitution is based on the foundational principle of separation of powers and given that Congress was given the sole Constitutional power to legislate, the courts are highly likely to rule the FCC's net neutrality regulations unlawful.       

In sum, it is unbelievable that the political debate over net neutrality regulation must continue when net neutrality proponents' arguments are so devoid of merit, justification, evidence, productivity, wisdom, popularity, or lawfulness.    

NetCompetition.org is a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.

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Innovation begins with an open Internet

Net neutrality, a founding principle of the Internet, guarantees that no ISP can dictate where you go and what you do online. Without net neutrality, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon would be free to favor Hulu, but block Netflix. Or prioritize YouTube over Vimeo.

Through [their] challenges, the industry makes clearer every day that it does not intend to preserve the open Internet, but to destroy it. Left to their own devices, the broadband gatekeepers will chisel away at our right to engage in open Internet communications.

Net neutrality is about protecting the status quo that is the open Internet. On many levels, the term "open Internet" is redundant. If it weren't open, it wouldn't be the Internet. The Internet as we know it isn't about the pipes that connect people; it's about the people that connect over the pipes, the messages delivered over the pipes, and the freedom of all people to use and all messages to travel over those pipes freely.

Clear, enforceable rules are needed to preserve the openness that underlies the Internet because there is no competitive market to protect it. Broadband users typically have only two choices in service providers, and, as their performance expectations rise, many will find only one. The picture for wireless users is little better, thanks to exclusive agreements and early termination fees, among other obstacles to effective competition. Without competition, broadband users can't just choose a less-restrictive service — they are a captive audience, forced to pay what the provider demands for what the provider will allow, or simply go without.

The Federal Communications Commission took a partial step forward when it adopted its Open Internet order in December, but the rules are riddled with loopholes, fail to include adequate protections for wireless users and fall short of real net neutrality. Yet despite the rules' weakness, opposition is strong, and the Commission is under assault in Congress and in the courts.

Through these challenges, the industry makes clearer every day that it does not intend to preserve the open Internet, but to destroy it. Left to their own devices, the broadband gatekeepers will chisel away at our right to engage in open Internet communications. Already, the United States is behind the rest of the world in broadband speed and access. Losing net neutrality would mean a steady race to the bottom in the quality and diversity of available Internet content, applications and services – and a long-term loss for our economy, our culture and our democracy.

Nearly every major Internet business, including Google, Skype, Facebook and Netflix, is the product of the open Internet. None were started by network operators, and all have depended from the start on being able to reach end users over an open connection, without closed gates or toll roads. Continued open access to end users remains essential, both for their businesses and for the next Internet start-ups that will rise to challenge them.

These garage-born businesses continue to drive technological innovation, employ tens of thousands of Americans, and generate billions of dollars for our economy, producing even more jobs and growth – all thanks to the (open) Internet.
The Internet also offers countless benefits for our culture and our democracy. Web sites like YouTube and services like Twitter have opened the door to previously unimaginable possibilities for user participation in the creation and distribution of media – not just its consumption. The open Internet is an antidote to economic and technological restrictions on free speech – it is Gutenberg's printing press on steroids, allowing each and every American with a connection and a computer (or even a phone) to be writer, editor, publisher and reader, all at the same time.

And all of these benefits are at risk if ISPs, instead of users, choose what lawful content, applications and services can be exchanged, offered and utilized. Existing and popular services might become largely inoperable, and new services might never get off the ground, particularly if they compete with services offered by network operators.

The pattern is already on display in the wireless sector. Verizon has offered Android smartphones that come with Google Maps disabled, pushing subscribers toward Verizon's $10 per month navigation service instead. AT&T and other carriers have blocked Skype for years to preserve the revenue from phone service. These practices, along with recent "innovations" in deep-packet inspection, usage-based pricing, and shocking overage fees, indicate the clear motive and opportunity of network operators to restrict use of the open Internet platform – not to encourage its continued growth.

The loss of net neutrality will result in significant damage to our economy, our culture and our democracy. By contrast, establishing meaningful rules to protect the right to control your own Internet experience would encourage innovation, participation and competition and enable the United States to regain its status as a global leader in technology and innovation.

Free Press is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group working to reform the media.

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