Wall St. Journal: Time to Give Up the Net Neutrality Quest

My op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall St. Journal brims with advice (put the title “Time to Give Up the Net-Neutrality Quest” into Google if you’re not a subscriber) for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on net neutrality. Here’s the nut:

Even with this country’s vast landmass, America’s broadband networks are improving faster than most. Akamai Technologies‘s (AKAM +1.04%) State of the Internet reports show progress in the use of higher-speed broadband networks in the U.S. compared with other nations. The U.S. now ranks seventh in the world in higher-speed broadband network usage, up from 28th in 2008. The U.S. has almost as many high-speed users as the top six countries combined, but spread across 15 times the land area of those countries.

Regulation threatens to upend this success, as two nationwide experiments with government regulation show. Between 2002 and 2005, broadband service over DSL telephone company networks was regulated under Title II of the 1996 law—what net-neutrality fans want for broadband now—and the companies failed to keep pace with the less-regulated Title I alternative from cable companies. Moving DSL to Title I in 2005 led to an influx of capital in the telephone sector, which now offers the broadband services with the highest customer-satisfaction ratings.

It’s pretty simple: net neutrality has always been meant to force Internet Service Providers to “do the right thing” and simply increase capacity by leaps and bounds, only charge money to the little people, and refrain from managing networks in a pro-active way. This would be a fine prescription if the underlying assumption that the only characteristic of networks that matters is raw capacity were actually true.

But it’s not. The ability of networks to support diverse applications – not just mom and pop web sites, but massive, high definition video streaming, video conferencing, mobile data, mobile augmented reality and the Internet of Everything – depends on the ability of the network to provide bespoke services as well as generic ones. You can do lots of things with a web site, but there are many, many applications and services that don’t look anything like web sites.

The op-ed argues, as well as I can in 700 words, that this premise is wrong, as well as the closely related premise that American broadband quality sucks. The previous post in the latest Akamai data shows just how wrong these claims of American broadband suckitude really are. There’s no claim at all to be made on on the wireless front: America was the first nation to deploy 4G/LTE at scale, and we still lead the world in its utilization.  On the wired side, the best performance data comes from Akamai and it has us tied with Belgium and Latvia for 7th place in highspeed broadband connectivity, the most important dimension of the puzzle. So as much as regulators like to regulate, there’s no big problem for them to solve right now.

So: FCC, we’ll call you when we need you, but right now we’re cool. Thanks for asking.