Powell Warns Net Neutrologists Not to Be Naive

Apr 05, 2006 | Inside: Regulation & Policies

Posted by James Seng Comments | Print | Email

Just got this email from David Isenberg:

"Former FCC chairman Michael Powell is up on the stage at the Freedom to Connect conference right now, and he warns the tech elite crowd here not to be naive about the dangers of asking Congress for legislation on Net Neutrality. As he explains:

The legislative process does not work well when it has a weak understanding of innovation and tech policy. You are talking about 535 members who need to get this. They have a very shallow understanding [of Net Neutrality]. If you go give them a quiz about the seven layers of the Internet, good luck.

You live by the sword, you die by the sword. It is much harder get a law off the books than to get it on. Someone will think it is a good idea to apply the same rules to the other side’s products and services. Be careful because you are playing their game [the telcos’]. We are talking about resources, ability, and 100 years of skill."

I am pro-legislation on Net Neutrality. I believe there is a cause for government intervention when there is a market failure and there is clearly a dilemma in US right now (although I wont call it a market failure yet as Verizon has not taken any action so far).

Reading this report almost made me a convert...almost.

The lack of understanding of technology in the Congress is indeed a problem. While law making in US are pretty similar to this part of the world, a handful of people will prepare the document and eventually present it to the Cabinet/Congress for discussion, modification and finally approval, the process is more political in US.

At least Asians have one trait which is helpful: They don’t talk when they don’t know what they are talking about. So questions are raised only if the member has some knowledge of the topic or a vested interest in the outcome. This culture difference is something I overlooked in my original assessment.

The lack of knowledge of Internet within the Congress is also related to his second point. The Bells have 100 years of lobbying experience and have establish strong relationship with the members. It also means the members are more familiar with the Bell-heads’ point of view and their position. It is a game the Bells excel in.

Nevertheless, it is equally dangerous to think we should ignore the political front just because we, the Net-head, are weaker in the lobbying game. Not engaging Congress is a mistake because the Bell-head is and will. Remember, the Net Neutrality debate was brought to the Congress by the Bell-head, not Net-head. This wont be the last of it.

Perhaps it is too early to ask for legislation right now. Perhaps this is why Verizon is pushing for it right now. In the long run, lobbying is something the larger Net companies must do. Luckily, some already did (hired veteran lobbyists).

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  1.   By Howard C. Berkowitz | Apr 24, 2006, 07:33 am PDT | Link

    I’ve wondered if there is a forgotten legal danger to the telcos and cable providers in going against net neutrality. In the past, whenever there is an attempt to make them parties to civil (and sometimes criminal) litigation over threatening, obscene, or otherwise objectionable content transmitted over their wires, they piously claim “we are but carriers and have no control over content”.

    In this Brave New World, however, how can they claim not to have awareness of content when they price differentially on it, or even block access based on content?  At that point, do their deep pockets become inviting to the doctrine of joint and several liability?

  2.   By Howard C. Berkowitz | Apr 27, 2006, 12:12 am PDT | Link

    To follow up on the preceding post, I am aware of the safe harbor provisions of the Communications Decency Act, Section 230(c) if my memory is correct.  Nevertheless, I beleive that safe harbor applies to those who do not look at content. Non-neutral carriers, even if they only look at IP addresses, protocol numbers, TCP/UDP port numbers, and probably traffic statisics do look at attributes of content and make content-related decisions for reasons of business policy.

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