Lawrence Lessig makes more noise about Net Neutrality

Last week Tina wrote about Net Neutrality in the middle of a perfect storm of informed commentary. In an Op-Ed column for The New York Times, former Chairman of the FCC William Kennard said:

“Unfortunately, the current debate in Washington is over ‘net neutrality’ — that is, should network providers be able to charge some companies special fees for faster bandwidth. This is essentially a battle between the extremely wealthy (Google, Amazon and other high-tech giants, which oppose such a move) and the merely rich (the telephone and cable industries). In the past year, collectively they have spent $50 million on lobbying and advertising, effectively preventing Congress and the public from dealing with more pressing issues.”

Mr. Kennard goes on to discuss how a more important issue is the access to broadband in the United States needs to grow to include more of the nation. He also has some good ideas about revising the Universal Service Fund, a subsidy given to telephone companies for providing service in rural areas by taxing interstate phone calls.

While this is certainly an issue worth exploring, Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig wrote forcefully in opposition to Mr. Kennard’s characterization of the issue:

“It’s not a battle, he tells us, about whether competition in applications and content, ultimately driving penetration, will continue. It is instead a battle about whether the ‘extremely rich’ will prevail over the “merely rich.’…I thought we were angry because the “merely rich” had yet to provide broadband as broadly as in other comparable nations. And I thought we were fighting the efforts of the ‘merely rich’ to further reduce competition, either by buying up spectrum that would enable real wireless competition, or by getting state laws passed to make muni-competition illegal. I had thought these were important issues for the new economy — keeping the platform as competitive as possible, to keep prices and quality moving in the direction they move in the rest of the developed world.”

Professor Lessig also pointed out last week why, “Congress must keep broadband competition alive.” Had it not been for the existing state of net neutrality, YouTube might not have been able to grow into a company worth, in Google’s opinion, $1.65b):

“Had network owners been charging an access premium, investors in an upstart like YouTube would have had good reason to think twice. All taxes are a barrier, but this tax would be a particularly high barrier to innovation. It would hinder newcomers such as YouTube by favouring established companies such as Google and Yahoo.”

All in all some very good food for thought here. While it’s obviously an issue very close to our hearts here at 10, net neutrality is something that will probably become one of the most important political issues of the coming decades. The increasing degree to which data networks support our existence, as citizens, consumers, and carbon-based lifeforms, only makes this issue more critical.

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