Contra on Net Neutrality

8 Feb ’06

Martin Geddes follows-up his recent contra net neutrality post with another. Gist:

Indeed, this is all reminiscent of the arguments about socialised medicine in the UK. “We must spend more on the National Health Service to prevent a two-tier system emerging!” Yet lots of people who can afford it opt-out and but private medical care. Likewise, ossifying and constricting the Internet’s rules of engagement will just result in a hidden transfer of traffic onto other, completely private networks outside of the neutrality rules. Do you really think the Baby Bells won’t be able to buy some finessing get-out clauses? This is a much easier lobbying problem that undoing the whole unbundling regime of the ‘96 Act!

So neutrality rules that entrench our “Internet Mk1” as somehow sacred, hallowed and for all time are just totally counter-productive. Better to allow Verizon to screw over their customers and make it worthwhile for someone to bypass them entirely using newer technology. Or just swallow your pride and copy the unbundling rules that work just fine over here. BT can deploy a two-tier walled IMS garden, if they like. Just they have no way to make me buy it unless it creates some compelling value.

Yes, as far as it goes, but the issue, as has often been said, is the absence of a competitive marketplace. It seems to me that the question is whether, in the absence of that competition, it is preferable to require neutrality. On that point, there is still certainly disagreement, but it seems to me that that at least is the proper forum for the debate; we shouldn’t need to spend much time on “regulation = good or bad?”.

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