Policy Documents

Net Neutrality: A Further Take on the Debate

Barbara Esbin –
December 9, 2009

U.S. News & World Report asked me to participate in a "Two Takes" print debate with Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project on the pros and cons of the Federal Communications Commission's proposed network neutrality rules. Here, I offer some further reflections on the debate. Schwartzman believes that the Internet has become so essential to our social and economic lives that it should be subject to government regulation; it simply is too important to be left to the workings of the marketplace.

I agree that the Internet has become an essential communications medium and innovation platform. However, I doubt the ability of government to regulate the dynamic Internet sector without causing the loss of that which makes it so valuable today: the permission-less ability of content, applications and service providers to innovate at the edge of the network, as well as that of network operators to innovate at its core. Will FCC regulation of the Internet improve its functioning or the diversity of content it offers? I doubt it.

The Internet is a complex and global ecosystem of users, content, applications, and services providers, network operators, government and non-government entities. In the absence of evidence of market failure or some other palpable consumer harm, the FCC should refrain from imposing new regulatory constraints. Simply put, the Internet today is not broken. It is merely continuing to change and evolve, as it was designed to do, and it requires no regulatory cure for that which does not ail it.