Tim Berners-Lee On Net Neutrality: It's Important, But Now What?

from the where-the-conversation-breaks-down dept

teKuru writes in to point out Tim Berners-Lee's latest essay on the importance of net neutrality. It's a good read that talks up the importance of network neutrality, and how it has allowed innovation to flourish online. Very few people (perhaps other than telcos and their supporters) will doubt that. The real question, though, is the one that Berners-Lee punts on. He doesn't have a solution for how to deal with the question of telcos looking to end network neutrality. All he says is: "To actually design legislation which allows creative interconnections between different service providers, but ensures neutrality of the Net as a whole may be a difficult task. It is a very important one. The US should do it now, and, if it turns out to be the only way, be as draconian as to require financial isolation between IP providers and businesses in other layers." In other words, it's a tough issue and legislation could make it worse, but do it anyway? That doesn't seem much better than Senators saying that laws against file sharing networks may cause more problems than they solve, but they need to be done anyway.

This is a big issue that many people don't seem to want to dig in on. Those who are against net neutrality regulations say that the regulations will screw things up even more, but ignore the potential downsides to letting the telcos end net neutrality. Those who want regulation say network neutrality is very important and thus needs to be written into the law -- but ignore the potentially stifling aspects of bad regulations. The problem is that both sides then are talking about different things... and there's no one looking at if it's written into law, how can it be written to cause as little damage as possible and if it's not written into law, how can people feel comfortable that network neutrality will remain an option going forward? The real answer is that it would be great if there were a truly competitive market that would make it impossible for anyone to kill network neutrality, but the FCC has already killed that option off by giving telcos virtual monopolies on the lines and rights of way that the government granted them. So, perhaps the real answer isn't to focus on legislating (or not) net neutrality -- but making sure there's real competition in the market. In the meantime, it looks like the Markey amendment on Net Neutrality is back in play. However, as it's been turned into a partisan issue, it probably doesn't stand much of a chance.

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  1. identicon
    nonuser, 2 May 2006 @ 8:47pm

    long distance battle redux

    This seems similar to the battle MCI waged over access to AT&T's Class 4 and 5 switches during the '70s and '80s, culminating in the breakup of AT&T. The telcos assert their ownership over the central offices and local loops, but their joint monopoly was established at the acquiescence of the US government, which demanded in return that AT&T's service and fees would be subject to heavy regulation. AT&T was also prohibited from entering other fields such as information processing, to prevent them from tying arrangements and other sorts of vertical monopolistic abuse. The regulations remained after the AT&T breakup, and were extended to cover long distance access fees, but somehow the line of business restraints on the Baby Bells were removed over time.

    Now we have decent competition in long distance, but the old monopolists are rattling their control over the local loops and tandem switches once more. The solution is the same as before - update the access regulations to cover broadband and IP traffic, and look at restricting the variety of businesses the baby bells are allowed to participate in. Congress should make sure the FCC commisioners do their jobs instead of sitting around picking out blue ties to wear on the news shows, like other administration appointees.

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