In the March issue of Reason, Peter Suderman takes us on a tour of the recent telecom and Internet regulatory scene as he looks at the Federal Communications Commission Chairman and Obama hoops buddy Julius Genachowski and his push to regulate the Web.
The article, which recaps the five-year network neutrality battle that reached a watershed moment this December when Genachowski all but rammed through the new rules as the rest of D.C. was heading out for the holidays, punctures many of the myths of the network neutrality rationale–including the notion that it is a small site-vs.-large-site issue and that large ISPs were exploiting their bottlenck position.
Suderman succintly shows how Genachowski, following the lead of groups like Free Press, framed what is essentially a geeky tug-of-war about network engineering concepts as wholesale market failure that demanded regulation, with himself as top Intenet cop.
But the net neutrality debate doesn’t really pit the Goliaths against the Davids. It’s a battle between the edge of the Internet and the center, with application and content providers (the edge) fighting for control against infrastructure owners (the center). Large business interests dominate both sides of the debate. Google, for example, has long favored some form of net neutrality, as have Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and a smattering of other big content providers, who prefer a Web in which the network acts essentially as a “dumb pipe” to carry their content. Mom-and-pop sites aren’t the issue.
Google makes its support sound as simple and earnest as its corporate motto of “don’t be evil.” Much like Genachowski, it defines net neutrality as “the concept that the Internet should remain free and open to all comers.” But the freedom and openness that Google claims to prize bear a distinct resemblance to regulatory protection. An Internet in which ISPs can freely discriminate between services, prioritizing some data in order to offer enhanced services to more customers, is an Internet in which content providers may have to pay more to reach their customers. Under Google and Genachowski’s net neutrality regime, ISPs may own the network, but the FCC will have a say in how those networks are run, with a bias toward restrictions that favor content providers.