When Did Network Neutrality Become A Partisan Issue?

from the this-is-unfortunate dept

One of the interesting things about the debates that we have here about legal issues concerning innovation is that they tend not to be partisan. It's never been easy to line up a specific intellectual property agenda with one party or another -- which tends to mean that any debate on the subject at least focuses a bit more on the issues, rather than stereotypes of Democrats or Republicans. However, it looks like the network neutrality debate is suddenly becoming partisan -- which is a worrisome trend. Lots of folks have covered the fact that an amendment today to include network neutrality language in a telecom reform bill was voted down. However, it's telling that everyone is now covering it as a partisan issue, whether the headline is "GOP Gets It Way on Net Neutrality" or "Democrats lose House vote on Net neutrality". This is an important issue to discuss, without there needing to be partisan bickering about it. Network neutrality is quite a complex topic, and unfortunately, it seems like both sides of the debate are simplifying it down to slogans which risk confusing, rather than enlightening, people. The efforts to write network neutrality into the law are a very tricky subject, with the obvious fear being that any regulations will inadvertently excessively penalize future developments. On the other side of the coin, those preaching a complete "hands off" position seem to ignore the fact that it's way too late for that. The only reasons the telcos are in the position to violate network neutrality are because they've pretty much been granted subsidies and monopoly rights of way -- and part of that bargain was that to increase competition, there needed to be open and fair access. To suddenly claim that we need a hands off approach is ignoring the fact that there's never been a hands off approach and the companies involved were granted special rights. Balancing these two sides is an important issue -- and simply lining it up as a Democratic vs. Republican issue is only likely to cloud it with pointless bickering and misleading statements on both sides.
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  1. identicon
    Jeremy, 26 Apr 2006 @ 10:21pm

    "Net neutrality"=more government influence

    From :

    Tim Wu argues the following on ‘net neutrality:

    I believe that thinking libertarians fear two types of centralized power: that exercised by government, and that exercised by government-supported monopolistic incumbents, like AT&T.

    The Network Neutrality debate is really a debate about what are, in effect, crown corporations, AT&T and Verizon, whose plans would distort private competition among internet service providers. Companies like AT&T are infrastructure providers, almost like the roads — and their plans are very much simple tollbooths placed on a utility necessary for the operation of the private market. That’s why I think even libertarians have reason to resist the incursions of a company like AT&T on the internet and its design.

    I am not an advocate of any particular corporation, but his assertion that AT&T and others are essentially part of the government is quite a leap. AT&T (and Verizon and Qwest and Comcast and Cox...) have no monopoly, are indeed quite competitive, and are not gov’t sponsored. He blithely equates the ‘net with roads and other utilities.

    That may have been the case 20+ years ago, but more to the point, do we really wish our Internet to be run like a utility? Look at the health and performance of the highly regulated utilities in this country. The Internet can, and should, be so much more.

    Also, Dale Franks (in the comments on his QandO story) seems to be realizing that a libertarian position really can’t countenance more regulation over less. Not that we should make these decisions strictly out of orthodoxy, of course, but his instinct is right.

    If the utility argument is not persuasive, consider this: ‘net neutrality legislation would probably end doing to the network what Sarbanes-Oxley has done for finance. It has not cleaned up any bad actors; rather, it has created a lot of expensive documentation and made our capital markets lethargic and risk-averse.

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