Out of Control Policy Blog

Network Neutrality = Network Mediocrity

In a Dec. 15 column , Jonathan Krim of the Washington Post nailed the network neutrality issue as being all about validating property rights for content and applications on the Internet.

The trouble is that Krim sees this as a bad thing. As I noted a few days ago, I think we've pretty much reaching the limit as broadband penetration can go as a plain vanilla service. And trying to enforce a common baseline best-effort Internet through network neutrality, far from being a spark for broadband, is downright counterproductive.

What horrifies Krim about a world without net neutrality?

"In this world, if the travel site Orbitz pays the freight, it will work faster and better on your computer than Travelocity. And of course any service provided by the network carrier itself will go to the head of the line," he writes.

This is another way of saying that a carefully crafted business relationship between Orbitz and a network carrier could make the online travel purchasing even simpler and easier than it is now.

Explain to me why this is so bad? Explain to me where this hurts consumers? Most of all, explain to me how this will hurt broadband uptake in the U.S.?

Krim confuses democracy with mediocrity. He compunds the error when he repeats some conventional but incorrect assumptions. For starters, he states matter-of-factly the common belief that the Internet is unowned. The Internet is indeed owned–-all the routers, PCs, servers and content out there, somewhere along the line were purchased (or, in the case of content, created) by someone. What gives the Internet its unique power is that numerous devices can easily connect to each other, and that the Net's central components–processing power, bandwidth and storage are cheap.

Second, he says with the current Internet, "the sky's the limit." Certainly today's Internet is incredibly versatile, but still leaves a lot to be desired. Spam, viruses, deliberate attacks are all to common. Porting access and applications across devices is still difficult. A better, more user-friendly Internet requires tighter integration between the way different software and software applets can automatically combine and work together. Network neutrality would slam the door on this because it would prevent two or more parties from getting together to make their part of the Internet work together better than best effort.

Without the boost this kind of differentiation provides, the market will continue to underachieve and investment in infrastructure will continue to sluggish. Rather than fear a clarification of property rights on the Internet, a more appropriate response is, "It's about time!"

Infrastructure providers need a reason to invest. That means they need be able to garner revenue through leveraging their assets.

What Krim at the end, is advocating is that we are better off with a mediocre, best effort Internet experience rather than allow any to partner or experiment in ways that might create very rich and useful value propositions.

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