Opinion

Before net neutrality eats the world

Photo of Wayne Crews
Wayne Crews
VP for Policy, Competitive Enterprise Institute
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      Wayne Crews

      Wayne Crews is vice president for policy and director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a former scholar at the Cato Institute and former Senate and FDA staffer. He can do a <A HREF="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqDg7_f3Ka4">handstand on a skateboard</A> and loves <A HREF="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68UkojnnVhU">motorcycles</A>.

      Wayne's work explores the impact of government regulation of free enterprise: Areas of interest include antitrust and competition policy, safety and environmental issues, and information age concerns like privacy, online security, broadband policy, and intellectual property. Wayne is the author of the yearly report, <A HREF="http://cei.org/cei_files/fm/active/0/10KC_2008_FINAL_WEB.pdf">Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State</A>, and he co-authored the recent reports <A HREF="http://cei.org/pdf/5705.pdf">This Liberal Congress Went to Market? a Bipartisan Policy Agenda for the 110th Congress</A> and <A HREF="http://cei.org/pdf/4911.pdf">Communications without Commissions: A National Plan for Reforming Telecom Regulation</A>. Prior to the assorted government bailouts now taking place, he wrote the report <A HREF="http://cei.org/pdf/6425.pdf">Still Stimulating Like It’s 1999: Time to Rethink Bipartisan Collusion on Economic Stimulus Packages</A>.

      Wayne is co-editor of the books <A HREF="http://www.catostore.org/index.asp?fa=ProductDetails&method=&pid=1441156">Who Rules the Net: Internet Governance and Jurisdiction</A> (2003) and <A HREF="http://www.catostore.org/index.asp?fa=ProductDetails&pid=1441127">Copy Fights: The Future of Intellectual Property In the Information Age</A> (2002). He is co-author of <A HREF="http://www.catostore.org/index.asp?fa=ProductDetails&method=cats&scid=30&pid=1441099">What’s Yours Is Mine: Open Access and the Rise of Infrastructure Socialism</A> (2003), and a contributing author to others. He has published in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Communications Lawyer, the International Herald Tribune and others. He has made various TV appearances on Fox, CNN, ABC, CNBC and the Lehrer NewsHour, and his regulatory reform ideas have been featured prominently in such publications as the Washington Post, Forbes and Investor’s Business Daily. He is frequently invited to speak, and has testified before congressional committees on various issues.

      Earlier Wayne was a legislative aide in the United States Senate to Sen. Phil Gramm, covering regulatory and welfare reform issues. He was an Economist and Policy Analyst at Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, and has worked as an economist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and as a Research Assistant at the Center for the Study of Public Choice at George Mason University. He holds an M.B.A. from William and Mary and a B.S. from Lander College in Greenwood, South Carolina. He was a candidate for state senate as a libertarian while at Lander.

      Here are links to Wayne’s CEI <A HREF="http://cei.org/articles_for_author/41">articles</A>, <A HREF="http://cei.org/studies_for_author/41">studies</A> and media citations.

The Federal Communications Commission has called off closed-door talks with tech lobbyists, talks meant to iron out a government driven compromise on “net neutrality.” The talks ended today in the wake of as-yet-unconfirmed reports that Google—the leading neutrality proponent—and Verizon may have reached a separate agreement enshrining non-neutral treatment of online content. No firm could ever actually support the policy as a general principle, and if this development hadn’t made that plain, it’d have been something else eventually.

Parties to the collapsed negotiations claim disappointment. As someone who’s spent years defending the unpopular concept of “long and thin” property rights in networks and wondering aloud where is our John Locke for the Digital Age, I’m not so disappointed myself. With this door closed, a window can open—one that recognizes that government and compulsory neutrality are not the sources of an “open Internet”—everybody’s buzz-phrase. The closed-door negotiations might have ultimately opened into the wrong room anyhow; all should take heart.

Years ago, the Competitive Enterprise Institute insisted in an FCC filing that the content companies themselves were going to want “tiers” and service quality guarantees on the Net rather than neutrality—and properly so.  There is no foreseeable future in which the very content providers once insisting upon neutrality will not themselves seek “preferential” treatment, or to pay less for non-vital transmissions, down the road.

For that reason and many others, we have long urged America’s high tech CEOs, as leaders of frontier industries, and before compulsory net neutrality eats the world, to get on a different train when it comes to cooperating (so called) with America’s anachronistic but bullying FCC.  CEOs on both sides will regret the harm compulsory “neutrality” does to their business models and customer service.

Rather than net neutrality, CEOs and Congress need to insist upon Agency Neutrality.  We need hands off, not public policy that picks arbitrarily between the content and infrastructure sectors, creating uncertainty in the communications marketplace seemingly as an end in itself.  The so-called non-discrimination principle, the one FCC is trying to strongarm into place now even without any congressional authority, itself bizarrely discriminates against infrastructure creation as an entrepreneurial phenomenon as such; and the very fact that policymakers allegedly expert in communications don’t know this or care about the creation of customized networks underscores the need to stop them. See page 12 of this filing to FCC for descriptions of the important role “discrimination” plays in infrastructure and content wealth creation and the danger of FCC’s neglect of these principles.

If a Federal Communications Commission didn’t exist now, I can’t imagine bothering to create one.  Initiatives like today’s predatory make-work-for-bureaucrats National Broadband Plan is little more appropriate to free enterprise than a National Elevator Plan (yes I proposed this) or a National 10-Pound-Paperclip Plan, both of which America also lack.