Barking is Better than Biting

by on September 28, 2006 · 4 comments

I hope the guys at Techdirt don’t mind me ripping off entire posts, because they’re too good, and too short, to excerpt:

Sometimes on the internet, things break. With so many pieces of network gear between a user, their ISP and a content provider’s servers, it’s not unreasonable that something goes down, gets misconfigured, or unplugged every once in a while. Something along those lines happened yesterday at Comcast, when a DNS server failed, temporarily blocking users from accessing Google and some other sites–and then the conspiracy theories started flying, with plenty of commenters fingering net neutrality even after the problem had been resolved, and the truth of the equipment failure had come out. The upshot of this isn’t to point out trigger-happy commenters ready to jump all over ISPs before the truth comes out, but rather that it illustrates just how difficult telcos have made it for themselves–should they ever actually go so far as to follow through on any of their inflammatory rhetoric about blocking or degrading the traffic of sites that won’t pay protection money. The tremendous amount of press this issue has gotten, fueled by the exaggerated and dishonest claims from people on both sides of the issue has made a lot of consumers hyper-sensitive and imagining “net neutrality violations” where they don’t exist. It’s seemed pretty clear all along that any telco stupid enough to block access to something like Google in the middle of this highly charged debate would be shooting itself in the foot; but these sorts of reactions to network outages and problems reiterate that even if telcos have the right to demand payments from content providers and block traffic, doing so would be commercial suicide.

I think this illustrates the virtues of the Felten thesis: threatening to enact new regulations may be more effective than actually enacting them. Even if the pro-regulatory side ultimately loses the legislative battle, the mere fact that we had a big debate about it means that a lot more people are now paying attention to the importance of network neutrality principles, and it’s likely to intensify the backlash should the telcos do anything shady in the future.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: