Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Net Disingenuity: Letter to the Editors of the Wall Street Journal

Your streak of outstanding editorials has hit a few potholes in recent months. I am speaking of your series pillorying network neutrality. Uncharacteristically, these pieces have suffered from major inaccuracies and omissions.

Months ago, your claim was that even defining net neutrality was fraught with complexity. In "The Web's Worst New Idea" (May 18, 2006 [1]), the Journal stated that net neutrality regulations would lead to, "years of litigation." When the screws tightened on AT&T, however, it easily conjured a trivial definition of net neutrality that codifies the status quo. The carrier simply said it would not prioritize or degrade network traffic based upon "source, ownership or destination." That's not exactly difficult to understand, nor is it significantly different than the principles of neutrality enunciated by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell years ago [2].

In "Net Discrimination" (Jan. 2, 2007), you claimed that Google, Microsoft, and other network application providers had, "loaded up on beltway lobbyists." However, a CNet report last year stated that AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon have "spent $230.9 million on politicians" since 1998, a sum that dwarfs the amount spent by the major Internet application providers (estimated at $71 million) during the same period [3]. Somehow you omitted that disparity in spending. One wonders what innovations the carriers might have arrived at had some of these funds been allocated to R&D.

And the companies you decry -- including eBay, Google, and Yahoo -- are compelling arguments for net neutrality by dint of their mere existence. Created in garages and dorm rooms, they are fountainheads of innovation and tens of billions of dollars of market value. A new crop of startups -- YouTube, Flickr, and Digg among them -- also relied upon non-discrimination to secure funding and technical viability.

As currently enforced by the FCC, neutrality simply ensures that the carriers can't discriminate between different types of content. Traffic from Google, Yahoo, or Joe' is treated equally. Neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. And it prevents the companies that control the wires from discriminating against content based on its source or ownership.

Put simply, net neutrality has resulted in the greatest value creation machine the world has ever seen: the Internet. Letting a tiny set of carriers constrict the Internet by turning it into cable television is a mistake of monumental proportions. At risk is America's technological leadership position and, by extension, its national security. Do you trust America's entrepeneurs or a reconstituted Ma Bell? I'll take our garages and dorm rooms any day of the week.

Best Regards,

Doug Ross


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