The immediate barrage of comments related to the net neutrality proposal from Google and Verizon gave me pause. While looking to such major players to devise a net neutrality plan that would truly address the concerns of consumer activists and Internet entrepreneurs would be foolish. I needed time to consume the proposal to understand was it really that bad for the industry and Broadvox. In some ways, the proposal begins to address my change in position regarding net neutrality.
My original stance on net neutrality was that we needed to maintain an open Internet and avoid tiered pricing for usage. The idea of charging gamers more than grandmothers are charged appeared to be a threat to innovation. Tying the consumption of high bandwidth applications to one's ability to pay would make remove the truly public and mass accessibility of the Internet. I changed my position because as I analyzed the actual penetration and speeds of broadband in the US, it became clear that we are lagging the industrialized nations and losing our advantage over the developing nations. The US needs a dramatic increase in broadband infrastructure investment in our urban and populated areas now. Such an investment will not take place unless the investors and service providers can see additional revenue source, growth and profits.
However, the Verizon/Google proposal goes further in suggesting that there be separate Internet distribution environments, one for pay and another for public usage. That endangers the current concept of the Internet as a public place, open for anyone to develop websites, businesses or free apps. I have often stated that an open Internet is like the wild, wild, west, a place filled with both risk and rewards. However, separate transport for higher valued applications and services will jeopardize the usefulness and broader innovation that should be available to all. Additionally, adding a carve out where mobile networks and applications could avoid the tenants of net neutrality, also undermines the process that the Internet went through to become the communication and service environment it is today.
Finally, the proposal attempts to weaken the oversight responsibility of the FCC. The FCC is not a perfect organization and given the nature of its structure and political appointments, it seldom does the perfect thing. Decisions by the FCC come in two flavors, starkly partisan and over compromised. However, removing it from the regulatory and monitoring process would be a mistake. Capitalism and democracy make interesting bedfellows. They work together because they each gain in the process. As we discovered during the recent banking crisis, self-regulation fails when the potential and real rewards are so great.
The IP communications industry and ecosystem should support of the Third Way as proposed by the FCC months ago. It is unwise to put the wild wild Internet at risk while it is still so young.
See you on Monday with another original recipe. You are going to love this one!