Internet Innovation Alliance honorary chairman Rick Boucher recommended a compromise between Congressional Democrats that favor the transparency and non-discrimination that net neutrality rules is supposed to provide and Congressional Republicans who see net neutrality rules as onerous and intrusive while hampering the level of investment ion broadband deployment. Mr. Boucher would like net neutrality principles codified in federal statute in return for internet service providers being returned to their prior information services classification. From a market reality perspective, Mr. Boucher’s offer in compromise makes sense. You can read Mr. Boucher’s persuasive argument here.
I’ve argued before that Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and a host of other broadband access providers have gone or heading beyond their old classifications as broadband providers or even communications companies. These companies sell ad space on their portals; provide news and information; collect data from their customers that may be used to enhance the quality of the ads consumers see or any other services the broadband entity provides. Collecting and distributing information is an increasingly important part of their business model as they compete with Google, Facebook, and Netflix for consumer eyeballs. Classifying them as information service providers is appropriate and would show that the Federal Communications Commission has some understanding of the information market that they are trying to regulate.
Of course I’d rather the rules not even exist thus eliminating the need for Congress to come up with another statute. Market realities and the philosophy of openness that the internet has adhered to for a quarter of a century should be enough incentive for broadband providers not to discriminate against traffic from certain websites or block their subscribers access to websites of their choosing. The internet has always been the geeks haven for information flow and its commercialization hasn’t changed that, If anything, keeping the tap on information flow wide open only drives up the value of a provider’s network leaving the provider with the fun challenge of monetizing that flow.
Mr. Boucher’s offer is one that the Democrats shouldn’t refuse.