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Monday, May 15, 2006


My post on net neutrality yesterday garnered a fair number of comments, including a link to a pretty good article in Wired.

First, let me say that I'm not a fan of government in general, although history has shown that some degree of limited regulation can often be beneficial. That's not really germane to this debate, however, since the idea that one side represents government regulation while the other represents the free market is wishful thinking at best. Make no mistake: there will be government regulation. The real question is who it will benefit.

New broadband uses (HDTV, streaming whatever, things we've never thought of) will certainly lead to increased demand, but there's no reason to believe that charging more to certain content providers for preferential treatment will necessarily expand the total available bandwidth any more than the current system. Individuals and companies can already purchase more bandwidth if they desire, and supply and demand already seem to be at work in the current market. As in most cases, charging open-market prices to everyone seems effective and reasonable.

My primary concern, though, is that bandwidth providers are not merely providing bandwidth. If YouTube wants to pay for preferred service, will cable companies be willing to provide it to them? If Skype needs a higher tier, how much will phone companies charge? Will a network provided by a conglomerate that owns a record company be fully accessible to iTunes?

As I see it, the problem is that too many of the bandwidth providers are also competing with their customers as content providers. In such situations, the company-provided service will almost always have advantages not available to outside competitors. Ask a small local ISP what kind of service they get from their upstream provider when that provider starts offering competing services. The Wikipedia article on Common Carriers provides some good background.

Competition is good, but it doesn't work well when one of the competitors is able and willing to leverage an advantage in another market.

It's a complex issue, with real pros and cons on both sides, and lots of unanswered questions. From all appearances, there is certainly space and need for some kind of reform. The current infrastructure is in not immediate danger of collapse, though, so there's little need to rush into changes, especially when it seems that all the prominent lobbying has been coming from one side.

Fast, unbalanced legislative action produces bad law. Let's take our time, engage in the debate, and craft something that's good for everyone.


Anonymous flounce said...

Fast, unbalanced legislative action produces bad law. Let's take our time, engage in the debate, and craft something that's good for everyone.

I think this is wishful thinking. Pols are indebted to special interests on BOTH sides of this issue--it's not likely that they can regulate without undue influence being exerted by...well, the highest bidder (which right now looks like Google.) See

5/16/2006 5:47 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

You're right that politicians are beholden to special interests on all sides of every issue.

I think really the best we can hope for is that the influences will balance eachother out, like Mr. Burns' diseases on The Simpsons.

In fact, that's pretty much how our government was setup in the Constitution: competing interests checking and balancing eachother to eventually produce a workable compromise.

5/16/2006 10:49 PM  

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