ëSlouching Toward Mediocrityí

An the excellent analysis of the folly of network neutrality by economists Robert Litan and Hal J. Singer appeared last month in The Journal on Telecommunications and High Tech Law and has since been available on the Web from a number of sources. Litan and Singer warn that restricting the ability to customize service would drive network providers toward offering only a single level of “blended” service that does not fully meet the needs of real time application providers or their customers. “As a result, the U.S. broadband industry would begin slouching towards mediocrity,” they conclude. Litan and Singer also do much to document how the “end-to-end principle,” the major tenet of network neutrality, has been robustly debated since the ‘Net’s earliest days. Furthermore, Criterion Economics, a free-market group Singer heads and with whom Litan is affiliated, points out that the market that network neutrality seeks to enjoinââ?¬â??the business providing transmission quality and reliability above and beyond best effort IPââ?¬â??is already thriving.

The study notes that such restrictions would represent a step backwards because enhanced QoS offerings, such as caching and prioritization for providers of multiplayer online games, are already commonplace. “Tiered QoS offerings are already here at different layers of an access provider’s network, and for legitimate technical and economic reasons. Content providers are voluntarily entering into contracts with access providers because content providers (and their customers) value these service enhancements more than the prices for these enhancements,” they say. Rather than requiring an access provider to deal with content providers for priority delivery on the same terms, as would be the case for standard non-discrimination conditions, the proposed legislation would generally eliminate contracting for prioritization with content providers at any level of the access provider’s network.

Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.