In the modern equivalent of a story moving on the wire after the close of the stock market, The Wall Street Journal reported that the new FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, is expected to outline proposals on Monday to prevent Internet providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic. In Washington buzzword speak this is a “net neutrality” bombshell.
This is one of those issues where someone throws a pebble into a clear pool and the ripples expand forever. You have to decide whether you are going to think about this in terms of this month (Asian nations joining China in limiting internet access), this year (Internet companies agreeing to make it possible for China to limit Internet use and even more insidiously hand over the list of users) or this decade or two.
There was the battle between the phone and the cable companies over who would control network email services (before Telecom Reform in 1996) and then there was the fencing that was taking place over data traffic versus analogue voice before Judge Harold Green had broken up AT&T (1984) or …
Reading the story in the Wall Street Journal can make it tough to figure out who the good guys are. Are the good guys the ones who fight heavy-handed network blockers? Or are they the ones who are fighting government intrusion in the private marketplace? Are the good guys protecting us from network slowdowns from mobile video file sharing? It can give you a headache.
Balancing equities and regulating bandwidth are of course what governments do. So it would seem that with due concern for the technical issues involved, it should be hard to vote against the opportunities that serious net neutrality would create. No doubt the companies involved have some issues here. But the extraordinary social value that gets created when Internet services are allowed to innovate has been demonstrated. Net neutrality could be the next milestone.