Analysis: Courts May Have To Decide Rules Of The Internet Road

The battle over who gets access to the Internet, and how, is playing out in Congress. Google, Amazon, eBay, and bloggers on all sides have weighed in. Here's what Lawrence G. Roberts, Craig Newmark, and others are saying.
Telecommunications say that a fair market system and few regulations are responsible for driving Internet growth and innovation so far.

They claim they need freedom to charge extra for premium service, which will help by providing "fast lanes" for content that requires more bandwidth. They have formed an alliance with conservative political groups, technology companies and the Communications Workers of America. They argue that legislation could be the biggest threat to Internet freedom.

Mike Wendy, media relations manager for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said that net neutrality bills could impose "onerous telephone-like, or more complicated, regulation," on caching speeds, access requirements, rate regulations and application regulation.

He said laws should not be a default, but a last resort after the free market, technology itself, and federal watchdogs fail to protect consumers

Roberts said groups on both sides of the net neutrality debate are confusing the discussion by merging two ideas. He said ISPs should be able to charge more for new and improved technology with better quality or increased bandwidth. That isn't the same as allowing companies to build "walled gardens" to keep users in and competitors' content out.

"They're two different issues and if Congress got them clearly separated in their mind, I don't think anybody would be drastically against charging different prices for different services " if the access was equal," he said.

Both sides have been pushing for an all-or-nothing solution in public while policymakers seek a compromise behind closed doors.

No matter what rules ultimately pass, consultant Trevor Roycroft believes Internet control is likely to follow the path that led telephone companies to the courts nearly 30 years ago. He said he's not sure the outcome will be the same, however.

Roberts said that, either way, the Internet will have an endpoint for every human being on Earth in 20 years.

"By the time it is 50 or 60 years old it will be fully developed," Roberts said. "In another 10 years, it will be pretty mature, offering almost anything to anybody. It's very much in its middle age already."

People will have enough bandwidth to do everything they want with it and even if American companies blocked access to certain information points, people would find ways around restrictions, as Russians did during the Cold War and Chinese are doing now, he said.

"There will be a continued political battle to try to control it," Roberts said.

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