NTIA Chief: Net Needs a Ref

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Washington - The Obama Administration's
chief communications-policy
adviser last week said the government
should definitely be involved in sorting
out the policy tension between competing
Internet interests - such as the dustup
over network neutrality.

In a speech to the Media Institute here,
Assistant Commerce Secretary for Communications
and Information Lawrence
Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications
& Information Administration,
said that a hands-off policy was the
right approach in the Internet’s infancy,
but suggested such a regime was more
suited to the last century.

He also took a shot at the “broadband
ecosystem” metaphor
that Federal Communications
Commission offi cials, including chairman
Julius Genachowski, have been
using with increasing frequency.

"I answer the question whether the
government should be involved with an
emphatic ‘yes,' " said Strickling, adding
immediately that it does not have to be
a heavy-handed regulator. Rather, the
government that would be stepping in
would need to take a different approach.
He called the current regulatory regime
"too slow, backward-looking and political"
to be effective.

Despite the currency of the phrase
"broadband ecosystem," Strickling argued,
the Internet is not "a natural park
or wilderness area that can be left to nature."
He said he didn't believe that anyone
in the Media Institute audience
believed the government should leave
the Internet alone.

Hands-off was the right policy when
the Internet was first developed, said
Strickling, but the new century has
brought with it an Internet that has
morphed into the "central nervous system"
of the economy and society.

"The cacophony of human actors demands
that there be rules or laws created
to protect our interests," he said.

President Obama has long been a proponent
of network-neutrality regulations.

Those interests include privacy, and
protection of legal content, he said, as
well as network neutrality. "You want to
know you can make a transaction online
without your credit-card information
falling into the wrong hands," he said. "If
you are a content owner, you want to be
allowed to take action against users who
infringe your copyright. ... If you are a network
owner, you may be against net-neutrality
rules. But that doesn't mean there
aren't any rules, it just means the network
owners get to create their own rules about
whether and when to discriminate."

Where the Internet is concerned,
Strickling suggested,
the government needs to be a
sort of pro-trust regulator, rather than
an antitrust watchdog. He went so far as
to propose changing the NTIA’s name
to the “National Trust the Internet Administration.”

“In the absence of some level of government
involvement, we risk losing the
one thing the Internet must have, not just
thrive, but survive, and that is the trust of
all the actors on the Internet.”

In addition to continuing to hand out
broadband-stimulus grants — he said
March 15 would be the deadline for the
second round of bids, no exceptions —
the NTIA will focus on Internet policy.
The NTIA is not a regulator, but it is the
White House’s chief telecom policy adviser
with a role of “preserving and building
trust on the Internet” and “balancing
out” those policy tensions, he said.

Such balancing eff orts will include initiatives
on privacy (including eventual
policy recommendations), child online
protection, cybersecutiry, and copyright