Esther Dyson, who has been involved with building the web almost since day 1, has some thoughts about net neutrality.
She takes what to me was a very simple issue and makes it more complex by stirring up a lot of good questions.
The big fight is in essence two interest blocks arguing over who owns the consumer: Is it the big content-providers and carriers, who can make money by offering content in exchange for audience?… and, oh, to get those audiences, they’d like to get exclusive access, please. Their pitch to consumers is that without us, you’d have to pay more for your Net access.
Or is it the other side, the paternalists and free-loaders who want to keep the Net the way it (supposedly) always was, open and “free” (for themselves as well as for consumers)? They want to make it illegal for certain (big bad) companies to offer too much in the way of network-based enhancements and charge for them. They are generally suspicious of business and even of consumers making their own choices. It’s unfair, they say, for a movie-streaming service to be able to pay more to offer faster access to consumers – whether they reap profits from ads or charge the consumers directly.
Dyson is right that this is a complicated balancing act, one that could very easily get whacked out of alignment if one of the 800 pound gorillas decides to throw their weight around.
However, her solution of “vigorous antitrust – which can react to a changing market” is a lousy alternative. The government and legal system of this country just doesn’t move that fast.
Somewhere in the middle still needs to be the government, setting some basic rules for everyone to play by.
And those regulations must include requirements for complete transparency of business practices on all sides when it comes to management of the net.