It Finally Happened

So the FCC has finally gone and passed a net neutrality rule after all these many years of talking about how best to approach the Internet. Here’s the press release we issued at ITIF:

The Information and Technology Foundation supports the Open Internet framework adopted by the FCC today. The order brings an especially dramatic chapter in the Internet’s story to a successful close and benefits the Internet economy. While the framework is not everything that we would have liked, it nevertheless represents progress.

Out of deference to the unique role the United States has played in the development of the Internet, national regulators the world over have awaited Commission action before taking decisive steps of their own. The FCC has now provided them with an insightful and generally correct model that builds on the Internet’s traditions of governing itself according to “rough consensus and running code” rather than rigid, authoritarian proscriptions. The Internet thrives because of collaboration, openness, and a unique ability to adapt to a fluid landscape of changing needs and opportunities. The consensus process that produced his order reflects Internet values, and we hope that the details of the order fully reflect this spirit when they’re finally made public.

The clarity the order provides could not come at a more opportune time. For many years, visionaries have predicted the rise of digital convergence, a future in which video conferencing and media streaming would be enabled on the same networks that connect us with traditional web sites, and it’s finally here: Skype users made 35 billion minutes of video calls in the first half of this year, video entertainment accounts for half the traffic on the Internet, and the immersive video conferencing systems so important to large organizations will soon appeal to consumers thanks to improvements in cost and quality. In principle, the Open Internet order should permit these services to develop alongside each other, to operate at the levels of service their users desire, and to permeate social networks such as Facebook as it recasts the web in a new image.

Wisely, the FCC acknowledges that the largely untapped innovative potential of the mobile network experience should be monitored rather than strictly regulated for the time being.  Consumers will have access to the information they need to make informed choices, the Internet will be free of harmful discrimination and open to beneficial differentiation, and neither private investment nor the National Broadband Plan will be held hostage any longer to regulatory uncertainty.

We’re pleased that the Commission has accepted the advice we offered in July to explore its options for Title I jurisdiction over Internet services rather than attempting to force-fit this revolutionary technology into the legacy Title II framework. Title II is a relic of the single-purpose networks of the past, an entirely inappropriate vehicle for advancing the bold new vision of networking embodied by the Internet. It’s better to train a new generation of watchdogs on innovation-friendly principles than to sacrifice the Internet’s disruptive potential to outdated legal precedent.

We’re disappointed that some of the self-styled public interest and free market organizations choose to remain outside the big tent that Chairman Genachowski and his colleagues have worked so tirelessly to build. ITIF takes a back seat to no one in our support for consumer rights and well-functioning markets, and we would certainly not support this plan if we didn’t believe it would protect innovation and our fellow citizens. We’re also concerned about last-minute changes that cast doubt on the ability of network operators to offer premium transit services for sale to those who need them in a non-discriminatory fashion, but trust this problem can be resolved as a matter of process.

We hope that all of us who care about the future of the Internet will engage the FCC constructively in devising detailed procedures and regulations to translate the framework into practice and to correct any potential missteps.

There’s a great deal of value in getting this issue off the table, as it casts a shadow over every single action the FCC, the FTC, and Congress tries to take regarding the Internet. So even if the order isn’t perfect, it’s beneficial to try to close the book so that more important work can be done.

It remains to be seen whether today’s order accomplishes that. I’m reminded of President Johnson’s war in Vietnam. LBJ was a domestic politician with a deep interest in a social agenda for the United States and very little interest in foreign affairs, so his number on priority with Vietnam was to get the war over as fast as possible so he could get on with domestic policy. He made  a number of huge missteps toward that end that had the effect of entrenching the US in Vietnam more firmly than ever; it was like the Uncle Remus story about the tar baby. The attempt to reach an expedient compromise that will take NN off the table might backfire and have that sort of a result. We’ll see.