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“Net Neutrality,” RIP? Well, One Can Hope

Net neutrality has long been a threat to Internet users. Despite the rhetoric and appeals to “openness,” it was always an anti-consumer enterprise, irretrievably and irrevocably set against the concept of infrastructure wealth creation (as if content and infrastructure companies in free markets were somehow sworn enemies). It smacked of “infrastructure socialism.” Now Google, neutrality's chief proponent in Washington, FCC and policy circles, wants to secure for itself its own “fast track” on the Web, in conjunction with telecom and cable companies. It should do so as rapidly as possible; so should everyone else. Only Washington can screw up this new elevation of the Web's capabilities. Neutrality advocates always invoke the sanctity of “dumb pipes,” But it requires government force to keep pipes dumb. It's more appropriate to embrace a competitive dimension upholding the possibility of the “genius” of pipes. Price and service differentiation, such as paying less for non-vital transmissions and more for critical ones, will become increasingly critical to tomorrow's online experience. So will the fusion of content and infrastructure companies. The handwringers worry: "For computer users, it could mean that Web sites by companies not able to strike fast-lane deals will respond more slowly than those by companies able to pay." But such “discrimination” is not only perfectly consistent with vastly greater openness and speed than we enjoy now, it's probably a pre-requisite for it; nothing about fostering smart pipes is incompatible with retaining “dumb” ones as consumers desire. Indeed, the "background hum" of the Net is always rising; few of us use dialup anymore, and we didn't need neutrality to escape it. Special deals like Google's, as well as future proprietary services that use Internet technology, but may or may not ride the same pipes as the “capital-I” Internet, increase the Net's overall functionality. Policy should not discourage the possible emergence of such a “Splinternet” by catering to the old-school model of infrastructure socialism and sleepy-headed “openness.” Fostering infrastructure wealth—of both the proprietary and open kinds—is the only valid public policy goal, the only avenue to a constant escalation in the basic capabilities of the Internet as a whole. Neutrality is the enemy of this challenge. So far, Google and the infrastructure firms are scared of regulators and are "reluctant so far to strike a deal because of concern it might violate Federal Communications Commission guidelines on network neutrality…'If we did this, Washington would be on fire,'” one insider said. But FCC's own guidelines are anti-consumer and anti-infrastructure; later we'll explore more reasons why.