Are Industry Best Practices Enough To Protect Net Neutrality?
from the no-sticks-anymore,-just-carrots dept
For the supporters of net neutrality, an Obama White House, Genachowski FCC and Democratic Congress seemed to be the magic combination to ensure an open, non-discriminatory Internet. However, one of the key proponents, Representative Boucher, has recently suggested that he is switching tactics, “scrapping the idea of pursuing legislation mandating an openly accessible Internet in favor of negotiations with stakeholders aimed at reaching a comprehensive accord.” An agreement upon industry best practices could, in theory, be a good way to protect net neutrality, but there are causes for concern.
As Techdirt contributor Tim Lee pointed out in his paper on net neutrality, the unintended consequences of legislation may be costly and inefficient. So, voluntary agreements could create a flexible, realistic approach to protecting an important principle. Something similar happened with the Global Network Initiative that brought together Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!, along with academics and human rights organizations, to agree to a set of principles and enforcement mechanisms to protect and promote free expression and privacy around the globe. But the motivating factor of this agreement was the threat of legislation following very humiliating Congressional hearings on American Internet companies’ dealings in China. By creating a voluntary set of best practices, the Global Network Initiative sidestepped the unintended consequences of poorly drafted legislation. The ISPs could do similarly, but by publicly stating his change of tactics, Boucher may have removed the motivating factor.
Another key to any agreement would be competition in the ISP marketplace. In Norway, where they recently created a similar agreement between ISPs and consumer protection agencies to mandate non-discrimination of networks and endpoints, the ISPs are in a competitive sector. Because ISPs there recognize the competitive advantage of staying neutral, there is a force pushing them in that direction. In the United States, the driving force was largely the threat of legislation, and hopefully that is still there as Boucher guides the ISPs towards his comprehensive accord.