Peter Huber on Why Lawyers Will Love Net Neutrality

by on January 30, 2007

The always entertaining Peter Huber has a piece in Forbes this week entitled “The Inegalitarian Web” explaining why Net neutrality regulation “is great news for all the telecom lawyers (like me) who get paid far too much to make sense out of idiotic new laws like this one.”

Huber notes that NN advocates are trying to make the case that just “a simple two-word law is all we really need–an equal rights amendment for bits” to achieve Internet nirvana. But, in reality, he argues, “It will be a 2 million-word law by the time Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the courts are done with it. Grand principles always end up as spaghetti in this industry, because they aim to regulate networks that are far more complicated than anything you have ever seen heaped up beside an amusing little glass of chianti.”

After explaining how NN would not block Google, Amazon, Microsoft or other major intermediaries from cutting bit-mangagement deals with Akamai or other Net traffic managers, Huber goes on to explain how it’s going to be difficult to figure out how to draw lines after that:

“So what will [Net neutrality regs] block? Now, at last, we’re getting close to where the lawyers will frolic. What the neutralizers are after is what they call “last mile” and “end user” neutrality. But that only raises two further questions: How long is a mile, and where does it end?

The proposed law would block any Akamai-like technology embedded in the very last switch, the last stretch of wire that links the Net to digital midgets like you and me. That would be any technology that–for a fee–caches content or provides priority routing to speed throughput. But the ban on the fee would apply only if two legal conditions are met. First, the hardware or software that gives preference to some bits over others would have to be situated close to us midgets. Second, the fee would be banned only if it was going to be charged to someone quite far away. Exactly how close and how far, no one knows. Give us five or ten years at the FCC and in the courts and we lawyers will find out for you. Do you follow the arcane distinctions here?”

Of course, the NN proponents tell us not to worry about any of this. Just trust the friendly folks down at the FCC to use their collective wisdom to define “network discriminiation” and come up with an perfectly efficient set of regulations to govern the high-speed networks of the future. It’s all so simple! (Right.)

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