Support for Net Neutrality Wanes in Tech Community

Publisher�s Outlook

Support for Net Neutrality Wanes in Tech Community

By Rich Tehrani, CEO, Technology Marketing Corporation  |  September 01, 2010

I just came across an article worthy of passing along from the Technology Liberation Front, a group focused on helping to reduce the amount of regulation imposed on the Internet and technology. The excellent article, titled “ (News - Alert) Switches Sides on Net Neutrality,” focuses on how tech companies that once supported net neutrality are scared to death of being caught in the crosshairs of an administration gone wild with overregulation.

The article begins by discussing how Amazon's Paul Misener has for all practical purposes switched sides on the net neutrality issue as discussed in an editorial for CNET. Some of the points in the post have to do with net neutrality being a solution in need of a problem. However, the most accurate point in the column has to do with how uncertainty surrounding the administration's net neutrality talk is reducing investment.

In fact, many business owners and leaders tell me the fear of new regulations, general uncertainty and increased taxation is keeping them from buying homes, hiring and investing. To put it succinctly, if you are out of work, blame those in power and be sure to consider your future job prospects whenever you vote.

Here are salient excerpts of the above-mentioned piece:

Along with Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, Yahoo! and Sony also have backed off from one-time hard-line support. Just last October, [Amazon] CEO Jeff Bezos co-signed an Open Internet Coalition letter supporting regulation.

Back in 2006, Misener himself was warning about the potential of ISP abuse of their networks to throttle Internet discourse.

Even Google, which has been funding the Open Internet Coalition, has been sending mixed messages on the regulation for more than a year.

What changed? Well, the FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's (News - Alert) plan to reclassify broadband Internet service as a regulated "telecommunications service," all for the sake of pushing a network neutrality agenda, is shaking the entire U.S. Internet industry to its senses. For companies like Amazon, when the FCC's (News - Alert) power was circumscribed around carriers, network neutrality was "regulation for thee, but not for me." It's significant that Misener raises the issue of investor uncertainty, an ISP talking point that network neutrality proponents have in the past pooh-poohed.

 Reclassification would give the FCC broad discretionary powers over the entire supply chain for broadband services. And if the FCC can regulate ISP business models, which is essentially what net neutrality is all about, who says it won't, under its new self-styled mandate to regulate all things broadband … start regulating other Internet business models as well? Given the Obama administration's immense appetite for regulatory adventurism and its willingness to use (and arguably abuse) discretionary executive branch powers to get around Congress, it could be that many companies that once thought themselves outside Washington's regulatory purview are now rethinking their desire to ride the president's industrial policy tiger.

Using the same reasoning applied to ISPs and their network technology, regulatory zealots have started talking about "search neutrality" in the context of the Google and its search algorithms. Apple's (News - Alert) exclusive iPhone arrangement with AT&T draws regular fire. Amazon's Kindle is proprietary to Amazon – you can't use the e-book reader for books purchased from other on-line retailers (although I understand Kindle will read PDF documents). Who's to say the FCC won't demand e-book neutrality?

I don't like to make predictions, but I think that Genachowski's push for reclassification is going to blow up in his face. Congress, which sees it as an executive branch overstep, is already unhappy about it. In business circles, regulatory jockeying and rent-seeking might be part of the Washington culture, but it's notable that companies like Amazon are signaling that, given the choice between paying ISPs for tiered quality of service or the threat of wholesale imposition of a "Mother, may I" regime on their present and future business relationships, they will stand up for their the freedom to conduct business without government intrusiveness.

I am just as concerned as anyone else in the industry about the government taking control of the Internet in a way that could kill innovation. I voiced my concerns last April when I wrote about how an FCC ruling could inject politics into news delivery.

Call me a born-again-skeptic; I've discovered religion, and that religion is that multi-thousand page bills that politicians pass before they read are potentially harmful. Let's hope the Internet isn't the next successful conquest of the new nanny state.

Rich Tehrani is CEO of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world’s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO (News - Alert)). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi