Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Net Neutrality Double-Speak

At bottom, the net neutrality proponents' arguments are as much about sowing confusion as anything else. And there is a certain line of argumentation that, in the end, is most confusing of all, and, if we're honest about it, just amounts to doublespeak. Yesterday, on CNBC, I heard Senator Ron Wyden, one of the most ardent net neutrality mandate proponents, say something very close to (if not verbatim) this statement which appears on his website:

"Network operators must not be allowed to create a priority lane where content providers can buy quicker access to customers, while those who do not pay the fee are left in the slow lane."

Just like he says on his website, Sen. Wyden said yesterday he was absolutely opposed to "creating a two tiered system" which might chill mom and pop businesses from competing with the Wal-Marts of the world.

Then, in response to a question from the CNBC anchor, he said he had absolutely no problem with allowing pricing on the Internet akin to that used by the US Post Office in which you can pay more for speedier delivery (Express Mail) or pay less for slower delivery (regular mail). That's perfectly fine, he said. If customers want to pay more for priority mail, fine.

I don't get it. Someone please explain to me how Sen. Wyden (and his like-minded colleagues) say that the Post Office's priority pricing scheme for a variety of levels of mail service is fine, but the world would come to an end if the same basic economic principle were introduced on the Internet.

Like net neutrality mandaters, I don't want the world to come to an end. But I do want the Internet to continue to develop robustly. Continuing to develop robustly means allowing the broadband operators the freedom to enter into business arrangements and to develop pricing plans that are efficient and that make sense in a market environment. For the Internet, continuing to develop robustly means at the very least as much freedom as the Post Office has to establish prices that reflect different levels of service if such tiered pricing arrangements make marketplace sense. It means freedom from net neutrality mandates.

Even Sen. Wyden and his allies don't seem to be arguing--at least when pushed on the point--that they want to go back to the days when Post Office customers didn't have the option of priority mail (I know, there was even higher "airmail" rate before today's multitudinous options. I used to collect stamps in the 50s with airplanes on them).

Why do the NN mandaters want to enact laws that make the Internet less able to respond to market needs than even the Post Ofifce?

Please explain.