A “Third Way” on Network Neutrality

Lynne Kiesling

Regular KP readers might have noticed my reticence to opine on the current net neutrality roilings (which is why I am grateful to Mike for picking up the slack). There’s a good reason for that: I don’t find either of the polemic, binary, extreme positions that are being argued and memorialized in legislative proposals compelling or fully correct. I find the arguments in favor of so-called net neutrality histrionic and likely to lead to stagnation of the Internet. I am (much) more compelled by the arguments in favor of not regulating net neutrality, but I still have concerns about owners of the fixed wires infrastructure being able to earn uneconomic rents during the process of Schumpeterian competition for the post-broadband platform. Given that position, I thought it better to keep my mouth shut.

But no longer! I have ammunition! This ammunition takes the form of Rob Atkinson’s and Phil Weiser’s paper, A “Third Way” on Network Neutrality. Phil is one of the most thoughtful and knowledgeable scholars on this question (and I’m sure I’d say the same about Rob if I knew him!), so I take his arguments seriously.

And this argument deserves to be taken seriously. For example,

We believe that the current state of the network neutrality debate, like many polarized issues,
denies the reasonable concerns articulated by each side and obscures the contours of a sensible
solution. In this paper, we outline both the reasonable concerns of each side in the debate with
respect to the future of the Internet, as well as the claims made by each side that we believe are
not factually correct or economically supportable. We hope that by doing so, and by placing the
issues into a proper context, we can shed light on the underlying issues as well as articulate the
essential elements of a sensible and effective solution.

Their “sensible and effective solution” involves three basic concepts: open information (broadband providers should state their access terms and usage policies clearly) for consumer protection, an ex post antitrust-competition policy approach instead of an ex ante preventive regulation approach, and targeted tax policy to encourage broadband investment. They take seriously the issue of complementarity within networks; in other words, for example, the idea that access to Google and other applications increases the value of broadband access, so what economic incentive do they have to limit your access if it means you would be willing to pay less for their broadband service?

I heartily encourage you to read this short, concise, well-written, reasonable argument. I don’t agree with all of it (not surprisingly, I’m not a big fan of social engineering through tax policy), but I think this approach strongly dominates all of the polemic legislative proposals that are being considered.

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5 thoughts on “A “Third Way” on Network Neutrality

  1. For the less informed set, it would help if you briefly explained the issues in net neutrality. I don’t really know what it’s all about.

  2. Hi, I managed to read that, heh heh you and I have a different definition of “short and concise” hee hee…but I did read it. Um, I think I understand what net nuetrality is, and have been following the debate. Even after reading this article which is well written and thoughtful…I can’t help but ask…why? why bother?

    If it ain’t broken why fix it?

    For the folks that feel it is broke…isn’t that because theyw ant to draw more folks to their site, product, blog, news group? I feel that content DOES monitor the internet…no?

    What is wrong with how the internet functions now that we wonder if we should tweak it? Why can’t it just exist as it does? It’s kind of like when kids are playing and pretending to dress up or fight dragons…and some adult comes along and says…”theres no such thing as dragons, play spelling or math instead”

    Or am I missing something…?

    by the way, if you have time I might have something on my blog you might get a kick out of…I’ve been teasing Guy Kawasaki on his blog about his desire for top ten in technorati and I said I wanted to beat him. On my blog I have documented making a portrait of kawasaki. I have just put it on eBay for auction.

    Intersesting stuff here I enjoy seeing a different perspective on things…
    Cheers,
    Candy

  3. More on Net Neutrality: Can the FCC Be a Good Antitrust Enforcer?

    Lynne Kiesling Welcome to those of you who found your way here via Brad DeLong’s very kind link to my earlier post linking to the Weiser-Atkinson “third way” paper. Some comments in response to the comments on Brad’s post: I…

  4. Candy,

    Actually it IS broken. It was broken when the FCC removed restrictions last august to pave the way for the current round of Verizon backed legislation, if you have any doubts about this please read this news.com interview with Thomas Tauke, VP of Cerizon who acknowledged that his people not only wrote the legislation for their congressional front men, but are also working to prevent the distribution of that legislation to the general publice. When news.com asked for a copy of the legislation in the interview they were denied.

    Later in the interview, the Verizon VP Tauke indicated, they (Verizon) wanted to push this through before November because they felt the current Congress was the best climate to get the bill through.

    There is no 3rd way here. No one is looking for a 3rd way. This is a simple case of naked lobbying power driving this legislation. There are NO cosumer groups who want the tiered internet verizon is proposing, there are almost NO technologists who are interested in a tiered internet. Further the Clinton administration did everything in its power while in office to prevent this sort of legislation from even being possible vowing that “The Internet will not be a tool road”. Given the Internet boom presided over by one President with one economic and political philsophy, and the bust presided over by a different preident with a different economic and political philsophy, you can see why many many people are very concerned about this issue.

  5. Candy,

    Actually it IS broken. It was broken when the FCC removed restrictions last august to pave the way for the current round of Verizon backed legislation, if you have any doubts about this please read this news.com interview with Thomas Tauke, VP of Cerizon who acknowledged that his people not only wrote the legislation for their congressional front men, but are also working to prevent the distribution of that legislation to the general publice. When news.com asked for a copy of the legislation in the interview they were denied.

    Later in the interview, the Verizon VP Tauke indicated, they (Verizon) wanted to push this through before November because they felt the current Congress was the best climate to get the bill through.

    There is no 3rd way here. No one is looking for a 3rd way. This is a simple case of naked lobbying power driving this legislation. There are NO cosumer groups who want the tiered internet verizon is proposing, there are almost NO technologists who are interested in a tiered internet. Further the Clinton administration did everything in its power while in office to prevent this sort of legislation from even being possible vowing that “The Internet will not be a tool road”. Given the Internet boom presided over by one President with one economic and political philsophy, and the bust presided over by a different preident with a different economic and political philsophy, you can see why many many people are very concerned about this issue.

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