Neutrality Check

[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, AUTHOR: Charles Giancarlo, Cisco Systems]
[Commentary] When the public Internet was created, its guiding principle was that everyone would be free to use it in a way that was privately beneficial without being publicly detrimental. That principle fostered the birth of thousands of companies, products, services and creative activities that together built the Internet to become the indispensable infrastructure that exists today -- and the ultimate beneficiaries are consumers. However, many of the companies that were helped by the light government regulation of the early Internet are now advocating more regulation in a debate turning on "Net neutrality." The outcome of this debate could change the relationship between consumers and the technology that connects them to information and services. At issue is whether broadband access providers will be able to effectively manage their networks and have the incentives to invest in next-generation networks. Is regulation needed to accomplish "Net neutrality"? The prudent policy at this point would be not to regulate. First, the Internet is still in its adolescence, and it is undergoing rapid change. Regulation would lock in rules and practices that might seem correct today, but could create havoc tomorrow. Instead, we should allow the massive convergence to Internet technology to continue unabated, and regulators should address specific problems on a case-by-case basis. The FCC has already endorsed "connectivity principles" that clearly spell out that consumers should be able to access their choice of safe, legal content and applications within the bandwidth limits and quality of service of their service plan. The House's Energy and Commerce Committee recognized this approach by rejecting proposals to regulate network technology and management tools in a way that would have reduced innovation, choices and new services. Congress must protect freedom and openness on the Internet, while promoting responsibility and fairness among its users, and the ability of providers to compete on technology and services. Quick, reactionary and heavy-handed regulation could snuff out incentive and creativity. With forbearance and wise policies, we can actually ensure that innovation and growth continue and that consumers win.
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