The FCC and net neutrality

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/22/2010 - 09:34

There is plenty of sturm und drang elsewhere about yesterday's net neutrality decision by the FCC, so I am not even going to link to anything. I think that it is extremely likely that Congress or the courts, or both, will force the FCC to withdraw this new ruling, just as the FCC's ruling earlier this year was turned back. While opinions differ, it is not at all clear that the FCC has the statutory authority to do what it wants to do with net neutrality, and so nothing much is going to change until there is a ruling.

As usual, I think there is a better approach than trying to get the incumbents to change their business models by statute. Open access networks, owned by the community and managed as a digital road system, can have "net neutrality" baked into the business model so that no legislation is needed. The technology of the Internet now allows us to move beyond the outdated multiple networks (one for voice, one for TV, etc.) that were a requirement in the analog world. We can now treat networks just like we manage roads: one shared road system used by all public and private users. It lowers costs, and creates huge business opportunities for the private sector if done right. And no, I am not advocating that we should be buying our Internet access and phone service from the government. We don't have to go to the local town hall to buy groceries--but the grocery store and its customers both use the same shared road system to get food to the store and then to travel to the store to buy food. Some communities (more than 100 in the U.S.) are already building and managing their own digital road systems. And it is an approach that creates a way for incumbents to move beyond their "little broadband" networks, retain their existing customers, and reach new customers. Everyone wins.

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