Anti-Neutrality Ad Gets It Exactly Backwards
June 21, 2006
Filed under Internet Openness & Standards
Opponents of Internet neutrality legislation have some substantial arguments that need to be taken into account. But the full-page ad they are running in today's Washington Post is a remarkable effort to obfuscate the real issues by demonizing Google and waving the banner of garage-based innovators. It gets the whole matter precisely backwards. The ad shows a picture of the new facility Google is building in Oregon and says that Google's massive server farms are intended to give it an edge on the competition. It goes on to ask, "what about the next Google? The guys in the garage with the next big idea for the Internet, but without billions of dollars in infrastructure?" According to the ad, "smart networks" will empower these guys in the garage to compete -- if Google doesn't succeed in convincing Congress to "declare smart networks illegal." In fact, concern for small innovators -- the next Google, if you will -- is precisely what led CDT to come out in favor of narrowly targeted neutrality legislation, in a paper released yesterday. The neutrality of the Internet has meant that anyone can start offering a service without having to ask permission of or cut a deal with the big network operators. The guys in the garage come up with their idea, buy Internet access with which to deliver their new service, and they're up and running, with the instant ability to reach Internet users everywhere. In short, innovators benefit from a neutral Internet. They don't need a "smart" network, where "smart" means that the network operator treats traffic differently depending on the identity of the sender. On that kind of Internet, Google and other big players will be able to strike deals for favorable treatment, and it is the small innovators who will get left out. Yes, Google is building server farms. Yes, it wants to be able to store and sift through huge quantities of data faster than any potential competitors. But that's no threat to innovation. The real risk -- and the real focus of the neutrality debate -- is whether network operators should be allowed to abandon the neutral Internet for a model in which they act as gatekeepers. It is not going to be easy to have a serious conversation about this crucial issue and the difficult policy questions it raises if parties are going to run ads that twist the debate beyond recognition.