A few additional thoughts, after reading the coverage of the FCC’s Palo Alto hearing on broadband-management practices yesterday.
The question here comes down to: Who should be entrusted to set network-management policies that will produce the best outcome for all Internet users?
Start with the premise that you can’t have a truly "neutral" Internet. ISPs must be able to manage their bandwidth resources, because there’s not an unlimited supply of this. ISPs also must be empowered to stop rogue applications that present security threats and block spam.
Comcast and other ISPs say they should be in charge of setting policies to manage their own networks. That’s because they (a) have a financial stake in delivering what Internet users (i.e., their customers) expect and (b) have first-hand knowledge of how to optimize their own networks.
Net Neutralitarians want the government to step in and make these technical decisions for ISPs, on behalf of consumers.
But regulators at the FCC, assuming this is the agency tasked to carry out a Net Neutrality law, would (a) have second-hand knowledge of the networks for which they’re supposed to be setting day-to-day policies and (b) be interpreting laws on the fly as new conditions emerge.
Still, Net Neuts say, we cannot trust Comcast because they are incented to inhibit the transfer of Internet-based video, which (allegedly) competes with cable TV and its own Web-video properties.
Well — not any more than, say, Google has an incentive to show search results for its own destination sites more favorably than those of its competitors.
To put this debate in a different context: Should Google, an exceedingly powerful Web gatekeeper, be entrusted to provide fair and equitable access to search results without government intervention?
In other words: Do we need a "Search Neutrality" law?
This one isn’t my idea. Mike Volpi, former GM of Cisco’s service provider business, put forward this argument about a year ago — pointing out that Google charges more for preferential ad treatment. (That, by the way, was before Volpi joined Internet TV startup Joost as CEO… perhaps the shoe’s on the other foot now.)
Note that Google already is subject to numerous complaints from companies — including American Airlines – that say its search engine distorts results and harms their business.
Shall the government step in and rectify this "harm"? Or are the existing check-and-balance mechanisms (courts, competition) the better alternative?
If you are in favor of Net Neutrality, you should probably also be in favor of Search Neutrality.