Associated Press reports yesterday that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks.
This was seen as a major victory for Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, which had challenged the FCC's authority to impose such “network neutrality” obligations on broadband providers.
According to AP, supporters of network neutrality, including the FCC chairman, have argued that the policy is necessary to prevent broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against certain Web sites and online services, such as Internet phone programs or software that runs in a Web browser. Advocates say that nondiscrimination rules have traditionally applied to so-called "common carrier" networks that serve the public, from roads and highways to electrical grids and telephone lines.
On the surface, it appears the advocates have a good point. This view, however, depends heavily on whether or not we view the Internet as a “public” network that serves our nation with physical facilities. While there certainly are many such facilities in our country, the fact remains that the U.S. does not “own” the Internet, and that we owe much of what we have to volunteers here and abroad who agree to keep things up and running. The Internet, then, is not a U.S.-controlled common carrier network, but is instead a collection of interconnected government and volunteer systems that operate on—dare I say it—good faith.
When it comes to private companies that invest in systems, however, I see the point of the broadband providers who say that since they have spent billions of dollars on their networks, they should be able to sell premium services and manage their systems to prevent certain (competing) applications from hogging capacity. How would a large insurer like it if it built a huge, nationwide network, then was ordered by the federal government to give all its competitors equal access to that network? While I agree that this decision, if upheld, will stifle the business of competitors to these companies, I also see a great opportunity for one or more broadband carriers to build a business model around providing services to “disenfranchised” companies and other entities.
In other words, I believe these broadband carriers should be able to manage their systems as they see fit, but I am confident that competing carriers will be happy to provide services to any who feel they are being shut out. This is what capitalism, free enterprise and a free market are all about. The current crop in Washington is hell bent on imposing state control on our economy, having already lassoed a huge chunk in the form of health care. What they refuse to see—perhaps because they are so hungry for power—is that a truly free market often creates opportunities when there is business to be had.
Government interference is the last thing we need here, because this is not only a U.S. matter.
To be sure, we must make certain that existing U.S. laws are not broken on the Internet as far as our influence extends. Beyond that, the feds need to leave the Internet to the world markets and their demands.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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