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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
October 5, 2006
(202) 289-8928
Net Neutrality or Net Neutering?
PFF Releases Transcript of July Book Launch, Policy Debate

WASHINGTON D.C. - The debate on the merit of network neutrality mandates is expected to continue this fall as the COPE Act, legislation to update telecommunications regulation, remains pending in the U.S. Senate. In light of that continued discussion, The Progress & Freedom Foundation is releasing a transcript of a July event that marked the release of a Progress & Freedom Foundation book published by Springer, "Net Neutrality or Net Neutering: Should Broadband Internet Services be Regulated?" The event featured debate among authors of essays contained in the book and a former FCC Chief Technologist, who suggested the TCP/IP protocol’s usefulness may be nearing its end and net neutrality mandates would inhibit the development of successors.

Thomas M. Lenard, PFF Senior Fellow and Senior Vice President, and co-editor of the book, set the stage for the discussion by outlining the crux of network neutrality. "First, broadband is a very young, rapidly changing business," explained Lenard. "It is unclear what viable business models will look like as the industry evolves. Second, the rollout of broadband in its various forms entails hundreds of billions of dollars of investment capital." Lenard summarized the issue by saying, "The question is whether you want to impose common carrier type regulation - which is what a net neutrality requirement would do – on a young industry, which would severely inhibit the development of business models, with potentially very serious consequences for the incentives to invest in broadband infrastructure."

Randolph May, President of the Free State Foundation and book co-editor, presented an historical overview of network neutrality and concluded that "I think a better way to deal with potential net neutrality concerns would be through a process, or a regime like the one that we suggested at PFF in the Digital Age Communications Act project," May explained. "We proposed that a new statute would incorporate an unfair competition standard as the central core of the regulatory regime."

Mark Cooper, Director of Research at the Consumer Federation of America, took issue with May's overview, stating that network neutrality is a fundamental principle that must be preserved. He explained, "In our view, if you allow discrimination in routing, you destroy the many-to-many character and nature of the Internet."

Adam Thierer, Senior Fellow and the Director of PFF's Center for Digital Media Freedom, voiced concern that the implementation of neutrality mandates could stifle innovation and growth. " So, again, I'm not sure what structures, which business arrangements, which architectural configurations or platform policies are going to be best in the future. All I know is that I want to see the sort of experimentation that is necessary to figure the answer out to that question. Network neutrality regulation would likely prohibit us from getting there. It would prohibit us from witnessing that sort of marketplace innovation experimentation, especially with pricing policies, because it is, at core, the forced commoditization of broadband."

David Farber, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and former Chief Technologist for the Federal Communications Commission, voiced concerns about neutrality mandates from a technical perspective. "Many of us in the research arena believe that the current TCP/IP protocols have sort of reached the end of their evolution," he explained. "It's old, there are a lot of problems with it, and there's a lot of research activities now focused at rethinking those protocols in fundamental ways, even questioning, with the future of all-optical networks, whether, in fact, packet switching is the right way to go." Farber also expressed concern over opening the door to further government regulation of the Internet, stating, "Giving government the opportunity to muck in this arena frightens me, especially the passing of laws which, at least from my perspective as a technologist, are incredibly hazy, and every time hazy laws are passed, there's an opening for, quite often, mischief."

Initial panel remarks were followed by a spirited debate among panelists and audience members. Complete statements from the panelists, questions from attendees, and participant biographies can be found in the event transcript.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation