Webinar Debate: “Demystifying Net Neutrality”

by on February 9, 2010 · 1 comment

I know, I know… do we really need to listen to another debate over Net neutrality?!   I too have grown a bit tired of the issue, which has crowded out so many other important issues in the Internet policy world these days. Net neutrality simply sucks all the oxygen out of the room no matter what topic is being discussed. And it is so highly charged that it has become the equivalent of the abortion issue of the high-tech world; intellectual combatants can get so worked up over the topic that seemingly no rational debate can take place at times.

That being said, I do want to encourage everyone to check out this dynamite debate about “Demystifying Net Neutrality,” a Diffusion Group webinar which took place last week. It’s a very level-headed discussion of the issue that features my colleague Barbara Esbin, a PFF Senior Fellow and the Director of PFF’s Center for Communications and Competition Policy, and Chris Riley, a Policy Counsel at Free Press.  You can now download and listen to the debate now from the Diffusion Group website. Barbara also wrote about the discussion over the PFF blog and walks the reader through the discussion. And you won’t be surprised to hear me say I think Barbara gets the better of Chris Riley in the debate!

One thing I found quite interesting in the debate was how Riley struggled to distinguish between “the Internet” versus “Internet access services” for purposes of delineating the proper confines of Net neutrality regulation. Like many other defenders of Net neutrality regulation, (see, most recently, for example, Rob Frieden, “Why the FCC’s Proposed Openness Principles Cannot and Should Not Apply to Internet Application and Content Providers“), Riley and Free Press want us to believe that this distinction is clear-cut and that regulation won’t have unintended consequences.  Of course, such distinctions are always easier in theory than reality, and as Berin Szoka and I argued in our recently paper on “high-tech mutually assured destruction,” regulation always spreads. The march of regulation can sometimes be glacial, but it is, sadly, almost inevitable: Regulatory regimes grow but almost never contract.

Anyway, listen to the entire webinar discussion. It’s worth your time.

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