'Net neutrality debate sets out a false choice

The current discussion is framed as all or nothing. That is, without new regulation there will be anticompetitive behavior. This is patently false.

'Net neutrality unfortunately has become a proposal for new regulations on the Internet. The success of the Internet comes from letting the market work with minimal regulation.

'Net neutrality, a phrase that means different things to different people, unfortunately has become a proposal for new regulations on the Internet.

Supporters of 'Net neutrality advocate regulating the Internet so that you cannot do certain things, such as guarantee QoS or offer different service levels or arrangements. They argue that without regulation, you would create Internet haves and have-nots. The success of the Internet comes from letting the market work with minimal regulation.

Many of these pro-'Net neutrality companies would likely not exist if onerous regulations had been placed upon the Internet in the early days.

http://www.networkworld.com/community/?q=neutrality - Online forum with David Isenberg and Scott Cleland.

Cisco opposes blocking or degrading legal content and applications just as the FCC has defined this issue and just as pro-'Net neutrality advocates do. We believe such anticompetitive behavior should be punished on a case-by-case basis. We also believe, however, that those who build and operate transmission networks should be able to manage them and provide a range of choices, including QoS for varying bandwidth applications.

Application and network service providers, along with their subscribers, should be able to take advantage of procompetitive arrangements without regulation setting the price, terms and conditions. All participants along this value chain should benefit from investment in new uses of the Internet as well as faster, more functional and robust networks. And network operators need a reasonable opportunity to recoup the costs of network upgrades, or the investment will not happen.

To frame the 'Net neutrality issue another way, Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert wrote the following parable in an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, which brilliantly describes this issue: "Say you decide to buy sweaters for holiday gifts. You calculate the price, add the cost for standard delivery and send in your order. But L.L. Bean says, 'Hey, in the spirit of the season, we're going to provide express delivery at no extra cost to the customer. We'll work with FedEx to cover the gap between standard and expedited service.' Would we get government involved to stop it? Would it even occur to us to object? If Lands' End said, 'Not fair,' would we rally to its aid?"

The 'Net neutrality debate sets out a false choice. The current debate is framed as all or nothing. That is, without new regulation there will be anticompetitive behavior. This is patently false.

It is useful to go back and read the FCC's connectivity principles, which Cisco supports. Proregulation 'Net neutrality advocates have a new solution, but the problem they're trying to solve is theoretical. It does not exist. Guess how many complaints the FCC has received about a service provider blocking an application to consumers? One. The FCC acted quickly, and the problem has not recurred.

We don't need new Internet regulation to save the Internet. We should think and care about the entire value chain of the Internet, not just the edge or the core.

Pepper is senior managing director, global advanced technology policy at Cisco and former FCC chief of policy development. He can be reached at robert.pepper@cisco.com.

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