An Optimist on Net Neutrality

An op-ed contributor in today’s Times feels that there’s more competition out there than many think — and suggests that any effort to regulate the Internet means a new Interstate Commerce Commission and subsequente regulatory capture: Entangling the Web

Of course, incumbent broadband providers do have some limited monopoly powers, and there is cause for concern that they might abuse them. Last fall, the chief executive of AT&T, Ed Whitacre, argued that Internet giants like Google and Microsoft should begin paying for access to his “pipes”— never mind that consumers already pay AT&T for the bandwidth they use to gain access to these services. If broadband providers like AT&T were to begin blocking or degrading the content and services of companies that didn’t pay up, both consumers and the Internet would suffer.

But enforcing such a “pay to play” scheme might be more challenging than Mr. Whitacre suspects. As every music-downloading student knows, there are myriad ways to evade Internet filtering software. Moreover, an Internet service provider that denies customers access to content risks a serious consumer revolt. Unlike a one-railroad Western town, most broadband customers can choose between cable and D.S.L., and a growing number have access to wireless options as well.

With several promising new technologies on the drawing board, the market for broadband will grow only more competitive. Congress should let the marketplace develop rather than constrain it with regulation. Lawmakers should certainly be mindful of unintended consequences. The Interstate Commerce Commission’s regulations on transportation lingered for decades after their usefulness expired. Any neutrality regulations passed by Congress this year are likely to have a similarly dismal future. Choice and competition will do a better job of protecting Internet consumers than government bureaucrats ever have.

Sadly, the promise of these “competitors” that Mr. Lee sees out there seems more chimerical every day.

And the idea that getting around Internet filters to find downloadable music has *anything* to do with the problem of access control at the ISP is sophistry of the most transparent sort…..