The Race to Regulate the Internet

We warned at the outset that network neutrality was the camel’s nose of government interference under the Internet’s unregulated tent. Now comes an FCC Notice of Inquiry that aims to address the entire Internet information supply chain. Adam Thierer offers a fine critique at the PFF blog.

It tees up all the questions that we’ve been asking here for the past few years. The difference is, of course, that now the whole world is going to flood the agency with answers and many of them will entail regulatory action. Just the way the FCC frames some of the questions in this Notice concerns me, especially in terms of the breadth of what the agency is investigating. Consider how the discussion kicks off: We seek a fuller understanding of the behavior of broadband market participants today, including network platform providers, broadband Internet access service providers, other broadband transmission providers, Internet service providers, Internet backbone providers, content and application service providers, and others. My oh my, who isn’t under the regulatory spotlight here? I remember when I used to joke about how NN would eventually come to cover just about every company under the Internet sun. And now the FCC is basically confirming that with this Notice! When the FCC asks about the practices of “content and application service providers,” does that mean Apple, Google and Microsoft’s business practices are going to be scrutinized? Or could “content service provider” be read broadly enough to even include media and entertainment companies? Who knows. And when the FCC refers to “broadband transmission providers,” does that include the likes of Akamai, Limelight Networks, Savvis, Mirror Image Internet and other content delivery bit traffic managers? They are clearly engaged in practices that betray NN principles, and thank God they are because the Internet operates a hell of lot better because of it!

Dare I say it, but there seems to be a race to the bottom among the FCC, FTC, Congress and the states as to which can be the most active regulatory agent. Unfortunately. the debate is rapidly devolving to “whom shall we regulate?” from “should we regulate at all?” Until now, the neutrality focus has been on the Internet’s transport segmentââ?¬â??the telephone, cable and ISP companies. The FCC is now raising the stakes to take in other segments of the information supply chain. The likely outcome will be rash of filings that boil down to “regulate thee, but not me!” Unfortunately, that won’t serve the debate either. It will just provide bureaucrats with more fuel. Network neutrality proponents, some of whom honestly thought themselves as devotees of the free Internet, were foolish enough to put the suggestion of government Internet regulation on the table. Good luck getting it off any time soon.