Some people have labored under the impression that “net neutrality” regulation was about the government stepping in to ensure that large corporations would not control the Internet. Now that the issue is truly joined, it is clear (as exhibited in this Wall Street Journal story) that the debate is about one set of corporate interests battling another set of corporate interests about the Internet, each seeking to protect or strengthen its business model. The FCC is surfing the debate pursuing a greater role for itself, meaning more budget and power.
Tim Lee’s paper, The Durable Internet, dispells the idea that owners of Internet infrastructure can actually control the Internet. The better approach to “net neutrality” is to let Internet users decide what they want from their ISPs and to let ISPs and content companies do unmediated battle with one another to create and capture the greatest value from the Internet ecosystem. If the FCC were to reduce its power by freeing up more wireless spectrum—either selling it as property or dedicating it to commons treatment—competition to provide Internet service would strengthen consumers’ hands.
These are notions I have tried to get across in some recent television interviews, which you’ll find after the jump.
In this first one, I say, “This is governmental tinkering with a marketplace that is working really well and growing,” which comes off as slightly glib. TV talk is extemporaneous, of course. I tend to lean Julian Sanchez’ way, believing that competition is insufficient in many respects. This is a product of FCC policy as much as anything, of course, and even the situation we’ve got is better than throwing up our hands and giving the FCC regulatory authority over network management forevermore.