Net Neutrality is the Wrong Frame
With all due respect to Jeff Pulver and to the rest of the gang (including yours truly) that have been breathing life into the idea of Net Neutrality, we in the tech industry have done a lousy job framing the debate with the telcos. Martin Geddes is right when he says that "... network neutrality law is a tactical, practical, strategic and philosophical error."
But I would offer a simpler formula than Martin for what does need to be done. And as an aside, simpler is part of the lesson that the tech industry needs to learn if we are going to be successful in the political realm. Here it is:
The two most important issues facing our nation and the world economy are energy and telecommunications. These are the two economic drivers that will determine our prosperity and health in the coming decades. Do we need really need another OPEC in telecommunications? By ceding control of the Internet to a small number of powerful companies, we risk a set of unintended consequences -- limits on innovation, an impact on competitiveness in a world market, decisions about where investment capital will flow, and a negative impact on our individual quality of life.
Improved networks that are capable of prioritizing the flow of certain kinds of information are not in themselves the problem. The debate should be about two things:
(1) Who gets to decide which packets are prioritized?
(2) What obligations are inherent in the use of public rights of way ?
My answer to #1 is THE CUSTOMER. Look, if AT&T wants to offer me the ability to prioritize my VoIP traffic, that is fine. But they can't discriminate amongst providers. So I get to chose which VoIP product I prioritize. Or maybe I want to prioritize my online game. And a hospital wants to prioritize MRI data. But the CUSTOMER decides. Not some backroom deal between a telco and a vendor.
And on #2 my answer is that there needs to be ewqual access to the last mile. I have an electrical line running into my home. I have a water pipe as well. Power and water comes into my home from many places. Lots of independent companies can hook up to the grid or the water supply and sell power or water to my municipality. Great. Why can't the Internet be more like electricity or water?
At the end of the day the role of government that is being overlooked in this debate is to protect the interests of the people. Government is our voice at the table. To the extent that the government hands out licenses to airwaves or to rip up our city streets to install bandwidth to our homes, they should be doing so to improve our cities, our economies, and our lives. Creating a new OPEC, with an unreasonable amount of power over what we can and cannot do with the telecommunications infrasturcture is a direct threat to our pursuit of happiness.