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The Free-Market Solution to Net Neutrality


Posted by Kelly William Cobb on Friday, June 11th, 2010, 3:37 PM PERMALINK


The political battle over Internet regulation has escalated over the past year into nuclear war.  The FCC begins the process to impose onerous regulations on Internet access next week, while radical socialists at organizations like Free Press and Public Knowledge continue to call Net Neutrality a “consumer protection” and free-market advocacy groups (like ATR) call it a “government takeover” of private business management practices.  At the end of the day, however, the dispute is much more technical; it’s about how Internet service providers manage increasingly larger data flows on their networks to prevent congestion, while balancing the concerns of content providers who want to make sure their material reaches broad audiences.

Enter the free-market approach to Net Neutrality.  This week, ISPs and content providers came together to form a private working group called the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (or BITAG).  It’s headed by a well regarded technologist (Dale Hatfield) and there is not a government bureaucrat sitting at the table.  It is a private dispute resolution group with a neutral moderator whose mission is simple: to educate policymakers on technical issues, minimize the policy disputes, and think of new ideas for managing Internet networks.

Thus far, the group has received relatively favorable praise, but organizations like Free Press and Public Knowledge gave only half-hearted support to the group, stating “is not a substitute for the government setting basic rules of the road for the Internet” and “it is not a substitute for FCC rules,” respectively.  This shows the true colors of Free Press and Public Knowledge. For them, it has never really been about “consumer protection” to ensure full access to web content.  If content providers in BITAG are assuaged of concerns that their material can reach all audiences, then individuals should have no reason to think they will be prevented from accessing sites or data (as they never really have been to begin with).

For Free Press and Public Knowledge, Net Neutrality is a means to an end of complete government regulation and ownership of the Internet.  It is not just managing networks and data, but the government completely dismantling privately owned networks and running a public, monopoly Internet service provider.  In their world, the first step is for private business to become the puppet of a larger government mission, which they determine.

But disputes between private businesses – like Net Neutrality – are best solved through free-market solutions like an open discussion between engineers and executives, not onerous regulations imposed by politicians and bureaucrats.  BITAG will help facilitate this free-market dispute resolution and hopefully provide a solution.  ATR hopes that it will also take the “Net Neutrality” debate off the plate of the FCC and halt the Commission’s political favoritism for select business models and third-party groups.

In the meantime, the FCC still plans to begin rulemakings on Internet regulation next week, despite BITAG and despite Congress and the court telling it otherwise.  This leaves us with a couple important questions: if BITAG has the potential to resolve these disputes, then who is running the FCC?  Free Press and Public Knowledge or Chairman Julius Genachowski?  And what is the FCC’s end game if the dispute over network management practices can be resolved?  I certainly hope it’s not the big government worldview that Free Press and Public Knowledge secretly envision.

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