The Fragile Balance of Net Neutrality

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.

net neutrality, esther dyson, big telecom

2 Comments The Fragile Balance of Net Neutrality

  1. HandsOff

    I work on net neutrality issues and would take Esther’s assertion that net neutrality is not a solution one step further and say that net neutrality is not a solution because there is no problem to be solved. As has been shown in the past, we currently have the necessary laws to prevent and punish anti-competitive behaviors amongst ISP’s. Any further attempts to regulate or legislate the Internet will simply result in a legal quagmire that greatly impedes (if not outright prevents) the development of the net and new technologies.

  2. Harry Greene

    Net neutrality is the candy concocted by Google for activists looking for a sugar rush. It was put together with a playbook written by Qorvis Communications — one of the big PR firms in the D.C. Though it has spawned some serious discussion, most of it is balderdash — which is unfortunate considering this nation’s broadband policy is one of the more interesting issues when addressed with facts rather than slogans and partisanship.

    If the Net Neutralists really hate the so-called duopoly of teleco and cable, they shouldn’t waste time crying for government regulation. Use your rhetoric to encourage creation of new broadband networks. Work with municipalities, start-ups and entrepreneurs to find better technologies that go around the incumbents; get involved in groups seeking wi-fi and wi-max solutions. But, please, don’t ask politicans to be technologists and solve yesterday’s problems.

    Great website. Thanks for the opportunity to vent.

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