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Net Neutrality: A Uniquely American Problem?

An interesting article in The Register today paints the Net Neutrality debate as a uniquely American phenomenon.

What emerged from the sessions is that ‘Neutrality’ is one of those incomprehensible American phenomenons, from which we’ve mercifully escaped. Your reporter was one of those invited to give a briefing – having reported on the issue from both sides of the pond – and said as much. But in the expectation that this would be the heretic view, rather than the near unanimous consensus opinion.

Summing up, [former UK trade minister Alun] Michael described the clamour for pre-emptive technical legislation as “extreme… unattractive and impractical”.

It was, he said, “an answer to problems we don’t have, using a philosophy we don’t share”.

That’s pretty much the same problem a growing number of people in the US have with it. There is no evidence that this is an issue. The one instance of anything in the US approaching a violation – also known as Madison River – was dealt with. Madison River paid a fine, agreed not to block VoIP traffic, and moved on.

That hasn’t stopped proponents from advocating for legislation in anticipation of there someday being a reason for it. It is not a sound basis for policy. The UK appears to recognize that. The truly interesting point in The Register article is buried.

[T]he UK doesn’t have such as ancient cruft as the US distinction between an information provider and a telephony provider.

They see this distinction as one of the principle problems. Since the Brand X decision and subsequent deregulation of DSL, NN proponents have pointed to that distinction as particularly problematic, while ignoring one of the specific contradictions in their argument – that distinction is the unintended consequence of applying a regulatory framework based upon a specific technology and then trying to adapt it to different technologies.

Net Neutrality attempts to do just that. Net Neutrality assumes that the technology and business models underlying the Net will not fundamentally change – therefore it’s ok to establish a regulatory regime based on what we know today, and what we assume we’ll still know tomorrow. In the absence of a specific problem, legislating a static solution for continually shifting technologies is a bad idea.

Written by Michael Turk