Net neutrality song remains the same

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski proposed two new rules to be added to the FCC's existing Net neutrality policy that would seek to (1) keep broadband service providers from blocking or degrading lawful Internet traffic, from favoring certain content over other content, and from favoring their own traffic over a competitor's; and (2) force carriers to be "transparent" about how there are operating and managing their networks.

It was a predictable statement that showed that Genachowski, despite months of thought on the subject, has not really brought anything new to the table. That's a disappointment for those of us who thought that if the Obama administration were really going to press this issue, it would have to come up with some radically new thinking on the subject to make sense of it. But, maybe there is no radical new thinking. Maybe there is only the now-stale, twisted logic that Genachowski himself spouts with no sense of irony at the ironically-named a regulated Internet is more open than the open Internet we have now.

Genachowski's push is eliciting the usual, predictable responses from those who favor and disfavor Net neutrality, with the big broadband carriers for the most part falling in the latter camp. Though, the closer we get to a new Net neutrality policy, the arguments from both camps seem to make less and less sense.

Those who support Net neutrality don't want big companies running amok on the Internet arbitrarily shaping traffic, but if Net neutrality moves forward, that's exactly what they will get, as the network operators try to keep all Internet traffic on a level playing field. As a recent report in Wired argued, there are likely to be Internet capacity problems that lead to the end of unlimited usage Internet service plans.

Meanwhile, the big carriers don't want the government in their affairs, but Net neutrality actually provides them with a reason to create bandwidth caps and end unlimited plans that have become too hard to support anyway. They also can be less concerned with their traditional primary mission to offer a certain quality of service even as they upgrade bandwidth--if everyone is treated the same, then it becomes appropriate to keep the bandwidth at a level where you can assure that's exactly what's happening. Maybe they would even spend less money managing their networks, as well as less money upgrading them, because there's no real reason to continue upgrading your network if everyone is on a level playing field. It seems like big companies interested in adding to their coffers should be in favor on the new policy.

What that all sounds like is an Internet where bandwidth hits a ceiling, progress hits a wall and big companies simply collect services fees that they don't have to reinvest in their networks. But, it will be OK, because it will have been licensed by the FCC.

- Dan