Tag: net neutrality

VOIP News: Cato Is Tops! But Let’s Clarify Something

Though I hadn’t heard of it before, I was delighted to see a publication called VOIP News cite the Cato Institute as one of 15 “Greatest Enemies of Net Neutrality.” As VOIP News says, we are indeed a “voice of reason during political debates.”

Alas, I’m selectively quoting. What they actually said, snidely, was that Cato is a “hired voice of reason during political debates, because of its pseudo-academic affiliations.” (I don’t know why they italicized “voice of reason” - I always thought Reason was the voice of reason.)

But my selective quotation is as accurate as the selective research that VOIP News did for this fluffy hit piece. You see, Cato recently published a lengthy paper that articulates the benefits of net neutrality (referred to as the end-to-end principle).

Where do you find that in the paper? Here’s the first paragraph of the executive summary:

An important reason for the Internet’s remarkable growth over the last quarter century is the “end-to-end” principle that networks should confine themselves to transmitting generic packets without worrying about their contents. Not only has this made deployment of internet infrastructure cheap and efficient, but it has created fertile ground for entrepreneurship. On a network that respects the end-to-end principle, prior approval from network owners is not needed to launch new applications, services, or content.

The paper expresses well-founded concerns about net neutrality regulation—taking a good engineering practice and making a mandate of it for lawyers and bureaucrats to implement. From the executive summary’s third paragraph:

New regulations inevitably come with unintended consequences. Indeed, today’s network neutrality debate is strikingly similar to the debate that produced the first modern regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission. Unfortunately, rather than protecting consumers from the railroads, the ICC protected the railroads from competition by erecting new barriers to entry in the surface transportation marketplace. Other 20th-century regulatory agencies also limited competition in the industries they regulated. Like these older regulatory regimes, network neutrality regulations are likely not to achieve their intended aims.

It’s tough sledding, working through most of a one-page executive summary. But many publications go that far in researching the pieces they publish.

I do sincerely appreciate the nod to our prominence in this debate. I hope VOIP News does a better job of portraying where we stand and why in the future.

Siding with the Geeks on Network Neutrality

One of the perennial tropes of the network neutrality debate has been the tendency of the pro-regulation side to paint it as a David-and-Goliath struggle between big, evil corporations and the little guy. Way back in 2006, James Gattuso pointed out how silly this is: in fact, the push for network neutrality is backed by some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley. Julian points out a particularly lazy example of this kind of ad hominem that happens to target Cato: It seems that we’re one of the “15 greatest enemies of net neutrality.” And that along with CEI, Cato “seems to draw its funding from a smattering of every major corporation ever to fund lobbyists.”

As Julian points out, if “VoIP News” had done its homework, it might have discovered that Cato makes its annual report freely available online. Then they they would have noticed that corporate support accounts for about 1 percent of Cato’s budget, and that none of Cato’s corporate funders are major opponents of network neutrality regulation.

Shoddy reporting aside, the “VoIP News” article does actually highlight an important point: the people who built the Internet are deeply split on the issue of regulating the Internet, with eminent computer scientists including Bob Kahn (co-inventor of the Internet’s TCP/IP protocols with Vint Cerf) and Dave Farber (another networking pioneer) on the anti-regulation side. And based on conversations I’ve had here at Princeton, Kahn and Farber are far from the only computer scientists who are skeptical that the FCC is up to the job of regulating the Internet.

In a vacuous appearance on Rachel Maddow last week, blogger Xeni Jardin cited Vint Cerf’s support of regulation and urged viewers to “side with the geeks who actually built the Internet.” She did not, of course, mention that Kahn and Farber, who fit that description as well as Cerf does, are on the other side. “The geeks” are as split on this issue as everyone else.

Update: Tim Carney has an excellent article making a similar point: Internet companies like Google and Amazon, who have lobbied hard for network neutrality, gave overwhelmingly to Obama over McCain in the 2008 election. This doesn’t prove Obama and Chairman Genachowski are insincere in their support for network neutrality. But it does mean we should take both side’s arguments with a grain of salt.

How Did the FCC Come to Acquire This Power?

Jeff Eisenach and Adam Thierer have a great essay in The American honoring the 50th anniversary of Ronald Coase’s article “The Federal Communications Commission.” It’s timely given the FCC’s proposal to establish public utility-style regulation of the Internet under the banner “net neutrality,” and it’s a good general warning to Neo-Progressives who “see market failure as the source of most problems, and government as the centerpiece of most solutions.”

‘Net Neutrality’ Regs: Corporate Interests Do Battle

Some people have labored under the impression that “net neutrality” regulation was about the government stepping in to ensure that large corporations would not control the Internet. Now that the issue is truly joined, it is clear (as exhibited in this Wall Street Journal story) that the debate is about one set of corporate interests battling another set of corporate interests about the Internet, each seeking to protect or strengthen its business model. The FCC is surfing the debate pursuing a greater role for itself, meaning more budget and power.

Tim Lee’s paper, The Durable Internet, dispels the idea that owners of Internet infrastructure can actually control the Internet. The preferred approach to “net neutrality” is to let Internet users decide what they want from their ISPs and let ISPs and content companies do unmediated battle with one another to create and capture the greatest value from the Internet ecosystem.

If the FCC were to reduce its power by freeing up more wireless spectrum—either selling it as property or dedicating it to commons treatment—competition to provide Internet service would strengthen consumers’ hands.

Understanding the Consequences of Internet Regulation

In an effort to achieve “network neutrality” online, the FCC is starting to write new regulations for Internet providers.  Reuters reports:

U.S. communications regulators voted unanimously Thursday to support an open Internet rule that would prevent telecom network operators from barring or blocking content based on the revenue it generates.

The proposed rule now goes to the public for comment until Jan. 14, after which the Federal Communications Commissions will review the feedback and possibly seek more comment. A final rule is not expected until the spring of next year.

Cato Director of Information Policy Studies Jim Harper appeared on Fox News this week to discuss the FCC decision. “This is governmental tinkering with a market place that is working really well and growing right now,” said Harper. “The last thing we need is to cut that off.”

Watch:

There are ways to achieve net neutrality without regulation, says Timothy B. Lee:

An important reason for the Internet’s remarkable growth over the last quarter century is the “end-to-end” principle that networks should confine themselves to transmitting generic packets without worrying about their contents. Not only has this made deployment of internet infrastructure cheap and efficient, but it has created fertile ground for entrepreneurship. On a network that respects the end-to-end principle, prior approval from network owners is not needed to launch new applications, services, or content.

…Like these older regulatory regimes, network neutrality regulations are likely not to achieve their intended aims. Given the need for more competition in the broadband marketplace, policymakers should be especially wary of enacting regulations that could become a barrier to entry for new broadband firms.

Read the whole thing.

Internet Companies’ Bogus Plea for Regulation

Some of the most prominent Internet companies sent a letter yesterday asking for protection from market forces. Among them: Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter.

A Washington Post story summarizes their concerns: “[W]ithout a strong anti-discrimination policy, companies like theirs may not get a fair shot on the Internet because carriers could decide to block them from ever reaching consumers.”

No ISP could block access to these popular services and survive, of course. What they could do is try to charge the most popular services a higher tariff to get their services through. Thus, weep the helpless, multi-billion-dollar Internet behemoths, we need a “fair shot”!

Plain and simple, these companies want regulation to ensure that ISPs can’t capture a larger share of the profits that the Internet generates. They want it all for themselves. Phrased another way, the goal is to create a subsidy for content creators by blocking ISPs from getting a piece of the action.

It’s all very reminiscent of disputes between coal mines and railroads. The coal mines “produced the coal” and believed that the profitability of the coal-energy ecosystem should accrue only to themselves, with railroads earning the barest minimum. But where is it written that digging coal out of the ground is what creates the value, and getting it where it’s used creates none? Transport may be as valuable as “production” of both commodities and content. The market should decide, not the industry with the best lobbyists.

What happens if ISPs can’t capture the value of providing transport? Of course, less investment flows to transport and we have less of it. Consumers will have to pay more of their dollars out of pocket for broadband, while Facebook’s boy CEO draws an excessive salary from atop a pile of overpriced stock holdings. The irony is thick when opponents of high executive compensation support “net neutrality” regulation.

Another reason why these Internet companies’ concerns are bogus is their size and popularity. They have a direct line to consumers and more than enough capability to convince consumers that any given ISP is wrongly degrading access to their services. As Tim Lee pointed out in his excellent paper, “The Durable Internet,” ownership of a network service does not equate to control. ISPs can be quickly reined in by the public, as has already happened.

A “net neutrality” subsidy for small start-up services is also unnecessary: They have no profits to share with ISPs. What about mid-size services—heading to profitability, but not there yet? Can ISPs choke them off? Absolutely not.

Large, established companies are not known for being ahead of trends, for one thing, and the anti-authoritarian culture of the Internet is the perfect place to play “beleaguered upstart” against the giant, evil ISP. There could be no greater PR gift than for a small service to have access to it degraded by an ISP.

The Internet companies’ plea for regulation is bogus, and these companies are losing their way. The leadership of these companies should fire their government relations staffs, disband their contrived advocacy organization, and get back to innovating and competing.