Net Neutrality Update

NET NEUTRALITY UPDATE….Is net neutrality primed for a comeback? AT&T chief Edward Whitacre, a determined foe of neutrality, recently backed down in the face of opposition from Democratic members of the FCC:

As head of the muscular new AT&T Inc. — SBC took the name when it acquired the venerable long-distance giant — Whitacre surprisingly agreed last week that his company would not sell premium delivery of Web content for the next two years. His decision could spur Congress to extend the prohibition to all Internet providers.

….Key congressional supporters of network neutrality plan to reintroduce their legislation soon, hoping AT&T’s decision elevates the policy into law. And AT&T’s pledge not to discriminate among Internet content, contained largely in a two-sentence paragraph, may rob neutrality opponents of one of their most effective arguments: that the issue is too vague to be precisely defined.

“You have a single paragraph that has a rule that a fifth-grader can understand: Treat people the same,” said Timothy Wu, a Columbia University law professor who has faced that argument when testifying to Congress in favor of network neutrality. “This will set a baseline and a standard.”

Unlike a lot of liberal bloggers, I don’t think net neutrality is quite the bombshell issue it’s sometimes treated as, but I still think this is good news. The internet has prospered under a regime of net neutrality for several decades, and ordinary prudence suggests we should be pretty cautious before abandoning it. After all, we have a pretty good idea that even in the worst case a net neutral regime isn’t going to do any enormous harm, and I suspect — mirable dictu! — that the phone companies will somehow figure out a way to offer new high-speed services just fine even if they aren’t allowed to set up toll lanes.

And if they don’t? Then the law can be changed. But I’d rather see it changed in response to demonstrable problems, not a mere insistence from the telecom industry that they’re doomed if we don’t do what they want. We’ve heard that Chicken Little song just a few too many times before.