Monday, January 17, 2011

Misunderstanding Net Neutrality

Rachel Alexander is the editor of the Intellectual Conservative. Based on her column on net neutrality, she is definitely conservative. Intellectual, not so much.

Alexander argues that "net neutrality," a term that refers to Federal Communications Commission rules aimed at preventing Internet providers from blocking access to websites and online services, "will increase regulation and costs by restricting companies from making marketwise choices. Moreover, additional government rules and regulations rarely increase freedom of speech." Alexander further argues that "The Federal Communications Commission selectively took information from those left wing organizations to justify its new rules. Alexander provided a link which purportedly supported this charge, but which, instead, linked to a Free Press commentator who criticized the new rules.

Additionally, Alexander charged, "This is unnecessary government intervention seeking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist." Really?

In November 2010, shortly before the FCC was to issue its net neutrality rules (and while the FCC was still studying the effect of its merger with NBC) Comcast was accused of violating the principles of an open Internet when it demanded that Level 3 Communications, an Internet company that carries Netflix's video feeds, pay a fee for sending data over Comcast's network. It is just this practice -- practices that could result in a tiered Internet in which network operators would be allowed to deliver their own content via a "fast lane," while relegating their competitors' traffic to a "slow lane" -- that net neutrality rules are trying to prevent.

The FCC rules really didn't result in true "net neutrality." The rules do not ban "paid prioritization," leaving open the possibility that Internet providers might favor the delivery of their own traffic, or that of partners who pay an extra fee. "Managed services," a somewhat ambiguous category that includes voice and video subscription offerings from broadband operators, were also exempt from the rules. The rules are hardly radical, and contain many features that the industry itself wanted.

It would be wise that Ms. Alexander, before launching into an attack on the FCC, that she know what she is talking about. Unfortunately, she is all-too-typical of many commentators these days -- not letting the facts get in the way of a good theory.


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