Advocating Regulation of the Internet
For some time I have been thinking about the debate on VoIP regulation and wondering how the regulators will handle peer-to-peer VoIP applications such as Skype and Peerio. Mobile Mesh pulls this snippet from Niklas Zennstrom's talk at Supernova:
"I want to talk a little about regulation. Decentralized voice over IP has an implication on regulation. The regulators have been trying to regulate this saying it's the same service, but it's not. You regulate a market that is subject to monopoly. You want to make sure consumers are protected. There is no such monopolist in voice over IP. Traditional telecom regulations will not help the market grow, will not help consumers, and will not drive regulation. You should not and you cannot apply regulations designed for network operators to software providers."This is the crystallization that was eluding me -- the mismatch of applying a regulation model developed for network operators onto a software business. When voice is just another packet on anyone's network, what are you regulating?
Back up for a moment and look at the core social justification of regulation. There are two arguments (other than taxation...). The first is that citizens need to be protected from the activities of each other and other entities (businesses, other governments). The FDA is a good example of this first case -- it is in the common good for the government to oversee drug development and marketing so that we have safe drugs that work as advertised. The other argument is that the State should protect and administer public resources. When a telephone company runs copper wires to your home, of necessity these wires must traverse public space to connect with your private property. Given the expense of installing and managing this infrastructure, and the fact that there is a limited resource (we don't want 20 companies tearing up the streets to install cables), the government steps in to regulate the process.
VoIP does not fit either of these justifications. VoIP is merely the content that is running along the installed wires. It still makes sense to regulate the infrastructure, but not the content riding on that infrastructure. Ultimately traditional telecom regulation must transform into regulation of the IP Network -- the core infrastructure elements from the wired or unwired connections we make to the network all the way through the routers, servers, and other devices that make up this new IP world. The regulation should insure equal access, promote quality of service, provide for penalties for abuse, and tax to the extent that enforcement of these regulations must be supported.