Sen. Wyden yesterday introduced legislation to mandate “net neutrality” by Internet network operators. the proposal is pretty far ranging, banning everything from “priority lanes” for time-sensitive traffic to requiring transparent rates, terms and conditions for service (one wonders how the famously confidential but sucessful Internet backbone market would fare under such a requirement).
It’s a bad idea–for reasons many have outlined. (For an excellent discussion of the issues, check out this excellent study by Christopher Yoo published by the Progress and Freedom Foundation.)
What particularly got my eye, however, was a comment Wyden made to journalists defending the proposal. He said:
You kind of get the sense big network operators are saying we built he network we own the network. What I am saying no, consumers built network subscribers built the network, they paying for it (sic).
Imagine! Just because the operators built it they think they own it. Amazing. Next thing you know, everyone will be claiming they own what they built.
Wyden’s “this really isn’t private property” argument actually isn’t new. It’s a retread from the battle over forced access to telecom networks, where proponents argued that telephone networks belonged to the public, not to telephone companies. That argument was baseless, as I argued here.
If anything, declaring that privately-built Internet facilities belong to the “public” is less justified. Just because Internet providers get their revenue from customers doesn’t mean the customers “own” the facilities. Otherwise, I’d own vast stakes in everything from Starbucks to my dry cleaner. Moreover, at a time when private investment in the Internet is critically needed, loose talk about the network being socialized is definitely unhelpful, to say the least.