CHICAGO--The Wednesday morning keynote at SUPERCOMM here featured something most platitude-laden trade show keynotes don't feature: A passionate argument attempting to influence events set to play out the very next day (that would be today). With the Federal Communications Commission set to vote on pursuing additional Net neutrality regulation today, Verizon Communications chief Ivan Seidenberg spent some of his time on stage yesterday arguing against the move--perhaps his final public statements on the matter before the vote takes place.
AT&T Operations chief John Stankey did not make the same stand during Thursday's keynote, though you get the sense that AT&T is fighting this battle just as passionately behind the scenes (and allegedly used its own employees to generate a pseudo-grassroots push against Net neutrality).
It's doubtful these arguments and efforts will change anything set to happen today, as the FCC and just about everyone else was already aware of where Verizon and Seidenberg stood. Not surprisingly, he called Net neutrality regulations a "mistake, pure and simple." However, there is nothing pure or simple about this issue, whether you support Net neutrality or not.
Seidenberg wants Verizon and Google to be seen as members of the same camp, despite one being a network operator and the other being an application provider. But, the former doesn't begin to describe Verizon, and the latter surely doesn't fully describe Google. The thing is that Verizon is both, which raises the old conflict of interest fear. Still, Net neutrality proponents also conveniently ignore Google's pervasive Internet influence.
These complications make it hard to see where the true benefits of Net neutrality are--who other than big telcos will benefit if new regulations are scrapped, and who other than Internet giants will benefit if the new regulations move ahead. That's why the FCC should take its time and not make a final decision on these rules too quickly. The pace of progress in Washington, D.C. may ensure a more step-wise approach, but the FCC also has an option to put on the brakes, as well as the option to change its course and not pursue any new rules. Still, the latter is very unlikely to happen, and if the big telcos feel a bit of a rumbling under their shoes, it's because regulatory influence and power is shifting away from them. -Dan