Form of Internet Access Task Force: FTC Group to Examine Net Neutrality
According to ComputerWorld the FTC has created an Internet Access Task Force to examine whether broadband providers are behaving anti-competitively. Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras has framed the issue this way:
I have to say, thus far, proponents of Net neutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where the market is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we should challenge.
First, the quote seems like an invitation for those who support net neutrality to approach the FTC with their arguments. Second, it seems that the question might be put differently so that it asks what anti-competitive behavior we face without net neutrality legislation. The problem may be that proving the undesired behavior now is not possible because it has yet to occur. (Those who have examples speak up and let the FTC know). Even for those who see the NN problem as huge (here’s a link Larry Lessig and Robert W. McChesney’s piece on the topic), the arguments seem quite general and assert that not maintaining net neutrality would lead to X, Y, or Z result but don’t provide the evidence that Majoras appears to want.
I am not saying that these folks (Lessig, Berners-Lee, Google, eBay etc.) are wrong in their support of NN or that their predictions are the equivalent of crying wolf. Rather it seems that more concrete examples or perhaps in this case more robust theoretical explanations and models are needed to make the case.
For those seeking more reading I suggest Brett Frischmann’s piece An Economic Theory of Infrastructure and Commons Management as it may provide some of the work that may be needed. Jonathan Zittrain’s The Generative Internet also sheds light on the problem and Mark Lemley and Larry Lessig’s The End of End-to-End: Preserving the Architecture of the Internet in the Broadband Era provides some foundational arguments as well.
As Lessig put it in his article, Re-Marking the Progress In Frischmann, 89 Minn. L. Rev. 1031 (2005):
It is not my aim here to resolve this choice between open access as a means to the end-to-end infrastructure … and network neutrality as the means to securing an end-to-end infrastructure. My aim instead is to insist that there is more to be done to resolve it. Even after we recognize the kinds of infrastructure that need support, and even if we were convinced that a commons was the best way to support those infrastructures, we would be left with the very difficult question of how we actually construct the commons. That critical question remains unanswered.
Thus if the FTC is asking for feedback, I suggest those who know this area well pipe up and offer the FTC their insights.
The FTC announced that it will host a conference from Nov. 6 to 8 focusing on protecting consumers in an era of converging technologies. It is part of a program named, in what is an unending need to coin odd words, Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade. The agenda for the meeting is available here.