Margaret
Simons’ continued advocacy of network neutrality regulation for the
internet is way off the mark (yesterday, item 20). This debate isn’t
about internet freedom, it’s about who should control innovation –
regulators, or the marketplace.

The network neutrality
legislation proposed in the US would introduce a regulatory regime to
prevent some content providers paying for privileged speeds or
bandwidth. Such legislation is not dissimilar to banning a practice
common within supermarkets – producers paying for prominent displays
within stores.

The Save the Internet Coalition worry that ISPs
would degrade, or even block access to the small independent blogs –
none of which could likely pay for priority bandwidth. The potential
for such discrimination has already alarmed consumers and legislators.
Negative consumer reaction would greet any ISP that tried such an
action. The fear is ISPs could grab an editorial role for the whole
internet. Few ISPs would relish such an opportunity, indeed it would
leave them vulnerable to being responsible for content, a matter which
postal services the world over have resisted.

However, if we
want higher broadband speeds and more bandwidth to provide services
such as online movies and television, ISPs must be allowed the chance
to charge for these services. Again this is analogous to postal
services’ different mail classes.

We can’t predict how the
internet will look in ten years, just as we couldn’t predict ten years
ago how it looks now. Network neutrality would be the largest
regulatory intervention yet into the architecture of the internet, and
an attempt to fix the current pricing model in perpetuity, despite
changing technology and consumer demand.

If consumers don’t
want ISPs to change their pricing models, that’s fine, and ISPs that do
so will be punished in the marketplace. But if consumers want
innovation to freeze at 2006 levels, they should hand these decisions
over to regulators, governments and populist Senators from Queensland.

Peter Fray

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