My Net Neutrality Debate with Public Knowledge

by on October 8, 2009 · 12 comments

I debated PK’s Art Brodsky last week about net neutrality on the international news channel, RussiaToday. Here are a few of my key points of disagreement with Art:

  1. The glittering generality of “Neutrality,” once enshrined in law for one layer of the Internet will be extended, sooner or later, to other layers. As Adam and I have warned, “the same rationale would apply equally to any circumstance in which access to a communications platform is supposedly limited to a few ‘gatekeepers.’” We’re already seeing this with fights over application neutrality and device neutrality, and calls for search neutrality are growing.
  2. Art insists that antitrust suits work too slowly. But he doesn’t address the basic question of what standard should govern network management. Should it be “neutrality uber alles” or, if we’re going to regulate in fashion, why shouldn’t we ask what’s good for consumers—the standard proposed by PFF’s 2005 Digital Age Communications Act (DACA)? Neutrality isn’t always best!
  3. Common carriage regulation didn’t work well for railroads (contrary to popular myth) and it worked even less well for communications media, retarding the development of new services like faxes, Internet services and cell phones. Regulating broadband providers the same way will work even more poorly because they aren’t just “big dumb pipes” providing a plain vanilla service and incapable of innovation that can benefit consumers.

  • brettglass

    Good job in the debate…. You didn't even bring up the fact that a substantial portion of every paycheck that Art takes home comes from Google… and that his real agenda is to seek advantage for one of the world's richest corporations.

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  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Brett, I'm not in the business of dismissing those I disagree with on the basis of motive. I have no reason to question Art's sincerity any more than he should have to question mine. We have a genuine conflict of visions here and, while I think he's profoundly wrong, I respect him on an intellectual level.

    This is a bit like the debate over the role that campaign finance plays in politics. While I'm sure there are politicians whose views follow donations, the causality works in the opposite direction in probably the vast majority of cases: Donors give to a candidate whose views they like. In the case of non-profit advocacy organizations, I'm even more inclined to assume that views are genuinely held and not merely intended to advance the interests of a particular company or sector (although I'm sure that does happen). We get grief at PFF all the time for drawing support from a broad range of companies (including Google), as if all our talk of cyber-libertarian principle were just a smokescreen for prostitution to whatever corporate interest paid us the most. It just doesn't work that way—not at PFF and, I assume, not at PK.

    As far as Google is concerned, I think their current support for net neutrality mandates will backfire in a major way for them as the principle of neutrality mandates for gatekeepers who control “access” to a “critical” bottleneck is extended from ISPs to search, etc.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Brett, thanks but I'm not in the business of dismissing those I disagree with on the basis of motive. I have no reason to question Art's sincerity any more than he should have to question mine. We have a genuine conflict of visions here and, while I think he's profoundly wrong, I respect him on an intellectual level.

    This is a bit like the debate over the role that campaign finance plays in politics. While I'm sure there are politicians whose views follow donations, the causality works in the opposite direction in probably the vast majority of cases: Donors give to a candidate whose views they like. In the case of non-profit advocacy organizations, I'm even more inclined to assume that views are genuinely held and not merely intended to advance the interests of a particular company or sector (although I'm sure that does happen). We get grief at PFF all the time for drawing support from a broad range of companies (including Google), as if all our talk of cyber-libertarian principle were just a smokescreen for prostitution to whatever corporate interest paid us the most. It just doesn't work that way—not at PFF and, I assume, not at PK.

    As far as Google is concerned, I think their current support for net neutrality mandates will backfire in a major way for them as the principle of neutrality mandates for gatekeepers who control “access” to a “critical” bottleneck is extended from ISPs to search, etc.

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