Network Neutrality Prohibits Innovation

Published September 15, 2006

Dear Editor:

By using the example of the Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch Web sites in making his case for network neutrality, John Nichols (“Internet Neutrality Must Be Maintained,” Sept. 14) nails the very problem with the legislation.

In Nichols’ opinion, not only is it a violation of Wal-Mart Watch’s free speech rights if its site is blocked, it is a violation of the watchdog group’s rights if Wal-Mart, or any other competing interest, can create a faster, easier, or better Web site experience by virtue of its financial resources. Web access and Web functionality are two different aspects of the Internet that network neutrality proponents badly muddle.

As Nichols notes, network neutrality legislation would prohibit carriers from creating quality tiers for large Web site owners, like Wal-Mart. But once it’s adopted, there’s no reason to assume a neutrality rule would be limited to economic regulation of point-to-point transmission of Web traffic. A network neutrality law could be used to challenge the common practice of local site caching, where Web site owners place the same content on hundreds of servers throughout the country so it downloads faster.

By Nichols’ own measure, on the demand side, any company that spends extra on better programmers, more intuitive navigation tools, easier payment mechanisms, and stronger encryption violates network neutrality. On the supply side, any business plan that looks to profit from improving Web site performance, through innovative equipment or a new service, would invite protracted legal problems.

Network neutrality is an awful proposition that will hurt the development of broadband, Internet, and Web commerce for all players at all levels.


Steven Titch

Steven Titch ([email protected]) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy with the Chicago-based Heartland Institute and managing editor of its monthly publication, IT&T News. Institute.