Net Neutrality

Voices are being raised in many quarters — including the editorial pages of The Oregonian — either for or against the notion of regulating the Internet, the so-called “net neutrality” debate.

With some members of Congress already drafting legislation on this abstract issue, it’s important to keep matters in perspective. Shouldn’t our policy-makers in Washington be spending more time and attention on critical issues such as national security, the economy, education, a lasting energy policy and immigration rather than on a fix in search of a problem?

It says something to me about the need for Congress to enact laws when respected, leading companies such as Cisco Systems, 3M, Qualcomm, Alcatel, Corning and others — which built and supply the plumbing for the Internet — are unanimous in their opposition to net neutrality legislation.

Those network innovators recently sent an open letter to Congress stating: “It is premature to attempt to enact some sort of network neutrality principles into law now. Legislating in the absence of real understanding of the issue risks both solving the wrong problem and hobbling the rapidly developing new technologies and business models of the Internet with rigid, stultifying rules.”

Their letter added: “Congress has wisely refrained from burdening this still-evolving medium with regulations except in those few cases when a problem has been clearly manifest and a narrow and carefully tailored solution to the problem can be articulated. This is not the time to deviate from this posture.”

Their warning call is amplified by industry groups such as the U.S. Internet Industry Association. USIIA members include dozens of Internet service providers and software companies, whose livelihoods depend on the Internet’s vibrancy and openness. Would these companies oppose net neutrality legislation if they felt threatened in today’s free and open Internet marketplace?

In a policy paper earlier this year entitled “Phantom Problem, Unintended Consequences,” USIIA said this about net neutrality: “It is, at its root, an effort by some companies to circumvent the natural processes of a free marketplace — and to inhibit consumer choices — by ‘gaming the system’ through restrictive legislative language.”

Public interest groups such as FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Media Freedom Project, Center for Individual Freedom, Americans for Prosperity, the Free Enterprise Fund and others all are lined up against net neutrality legislation. Thirteen such groups joined recently in writing to Congress to say they believe no legislation is necessary.

Solving the wrong problem? Hobbling new technologies? Inhibiting consumer choice? When very knowledgeable professionals in the technology industry react that way to proposals they see as flat-out unnecessary, the rest of us should take note.

Congress, too, should heed the wisdom of the technorati and refrain from enacting laws that might benefit only a few special interests but end up imposing vast restrictions on one of the world’s most effective tools for sharing knowledge, productivity and democracy.

Our senators and representatives have far more important issues to tackle.

Keith Parker is an attorney and certified public accountant for InFocus Corp. in Wilsonville.