We hear a lot from the groups pushing for Net Neutrality about how it’s really a simple concept. After all – it only involves what’s already baked into the Internet. Like, “neutrality,” or something really fair and cool for “edge” innovators.
Tuesday afternoon, Free Press – one such group pushing that “simple’ concept – hosted a congressional briefing, featuring Senator Al Franken. As the brief video excerpts below show, the “simple” idea, as articulated through the Senator, seems fuzzy at best. Maybe it’s about treating all e-mail (or content?) “neutrally,” at the same speed? Maybe it’s about allowing Google to buy up competitors that started in living rooms above pizzerias? Maybe it’s about denying the ability of “evil” corporations – except, perhaps, Google – to work with ISPs to differentiate their services to consumers?
Stanford Professor Barbara van Schewick spoke after Senator Franken. She took all the air out of the room, explaining for an hour the “simple” concept of Net Neutrality. After she was done, however, one couldn’t tell exactly what it was. At one point she told the audience that the threat of the FCC coming after companies for violating “neutrality” from 2005 until 2010 helped create de facto Net Neutrality, which grew the Internet, implying that that sort of common law, case-by-case approach was fine. That is, until now. A similar case-by-case approach is being proposed by the FCC in its latest efforts to impose Net Neutrality. But, somehow, that’s not “real” (or “simple”) Net Neutrality, even though it was de facto Net Neutrality before.
And so, what she and the other panelists at the event left us with was the idea – built on shifting sand – that the only way the Commission can impose “real” (“simple”) Net Neutrality was to regulate ISPs as FDR-era, telephone companies through Title II, banning “discrimination” or “paid prioritization,” and then “simply” forbearing from other provisions in the law that the Commission, in its sole Bismarkian discretion, would deem appropriate going forward.
It’s all clear to me now…I think.
I don’t recall Congress’ authority, or the limits of the Constitution, or the laws of economics, or even the contentious issue of “open access” mentioned once during the event’s “simple” discussion.
But, hey, why let the facts get in the way of a “simple” outcome?