What Part of “Opposed to Regulation” Don’t You Understand?

by on October 1, 2007 · 0 comments

Ryan Paul at Ars wrote up Lauren Weinstein’s network measurement proposal Sunday, as I did briefly last Friday.

In his summary of the “sides” in this debate, Paul casts supporters of net neutrality regulation as concerned with “widespread quality of service (QoS) discrimination that would stifle freedom of expression on the Internet and allow the broadband duopoly to set up exploitative digital toll booths to cash in on content delivery,” linking to another Arsticle – really an advocacy piece – extolling net neutrality regulation.

On the other side? – Paul writes, “Supporters of a tiered Internet argue that” –

Wait. ‘Supporters of a tiered Internet’?

The other side of the debate about net neutrality regulation is not the “tiered Internet” side. Opponents of net neutrality regulation include both supporters of net neutrality and supporters of a tiered Internet. Here are some viewpoints summarized in my review [page 5 of this PDF] of the Progress & Freedom Foundation book Net Neutrality or Net Neutering: Should Broadband Services Be Regulated?:

[Vanderbilt University Law School professor Christopher] Yoo upends the “equality” premise supporting net neutrality regulation. Though equal treatment of every packet traversing the Internet sounds good in the current environment, the current environment is not a given. There is no reason why the future should not hold out a range of ISPs, each designed (and discriminating against packets) for a certain purpose.

A column inch or two further down:

Adam Thierer takes on the assumption that ISPs would do the things proponents of net neutrality regulation most fear . . . . Leaving open the possibility of Yoo’s multiple networks, Thierer argues that consumer demand will probably force ISPs to keep their networks open. Were ISPs to interfere with the routine uses consumers want to make of the Internet, this would reduce the attractiveness of their networks and invite competitors to pursue their customers.

These are two opponents of net neutrality regulation who are divided on whether there should be an open or tiered Internet. The thing that unites them is the weakness of regulation as a means of achieving either goal. As Ars contributor Tim Lee wrote in the New York Times,

It’s tempting to believe that government regulation of the Internet would be more consumer-friendly; history and economics suggest otherwise. The reason is simple: a regulated industry has a far larger stake in regulatory decisions than any other group in society. As a result, regulated companies spend lavishly on lobbyists and lawyers and, over time, turn the regulatory process to their advantage. . . . Congress should let the marketplace develop rather than constrain it with regulation.

He expanded on these points in a later Arsticle, which Paul certainly could have linked to.

Opposition to net neutrality regulation is not support of tiered networks. It is openness to an uncertain, but certainly bright, future for the Internet and any other network or networks. This is a subtle but important point.

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