Net Neutrality, Video Franchising, Rotary Phones and Mailing a Bicycle

By June 9, 2006General

OK, let’s see if we can make some sense out of the issue of net neutrality, or at least explain the title of this piece.

Last night, the House passed the video franchising/net neutrality bill. Don’t know about you, but it’s been a little tough for us to get our brain around this one. This is a debate rife with doublespeak, hijacked phrases and half-truths. Apparently, the phrase “net neutrality” started out meaning one thing, then got purloined by the folks who used it to mean the opposite. Here in Washington, you can’t pick up a paper without seeing a bunch of full page ads — from both sides — about keeping the Internet free. Yeah, we’re for that.

Let’s start with video franchising, the easier of the two to explain: Right now, companies that want to deploy local video lines (broadband) have to gain franchising approval community by community. There are over 30,000 communities out there. This is a throwback to the days of the first cable franchises, when companies laboriously went from community to community to seek approvals from local authorities to dig up manicured suburban lawns. Now, companies are ready to deploy broadband but are encumbered by a regulatory regime hatched during the era of the rotary phone. This bill would supersede these local and painstaking franchising procedures with a standardized, national process that would speed deployment of broadband. Remember that the US ranks 16th in the world in broadband, a modern embarrassment. If we don’t take steps to speed deployment, we might well fall to 17th or 20th. Manufacturers depend vitally on the telecomm infrastructure for both voice and data, to remain competitive with the rest of the world.

As for “net neutrality”, here’s a link to the best, most straightforward explanation of the issue that we’ve seen — and we’ve seen a lot of ’em. Basically, as this writer says, it would be akin to mandating one price for all postal service, whether you were mailing a post card or a bicycle. Guess what would happen? The price of mailing a post card would skyrocket, to cover the cost of the occasional bicycle. As it is, the US Postal Service can charge different rates for different levels of service. So, too here — it would seem that the free market should allow companies to charge different prices for different levels of service. Seems fair to us. The more Soviet, one-charge-fits-all system doesn’t seem very capitalistic.

Yesterday we dropped this Key Vote card to every House office yesterday, urging members to support H.R. 5252 — the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act — and to oppose the Markey Amendment on so-called “net neutrality.” Looks like it did the trick. Yes, we can all pay one price, but for joe and josephine consumer, at the end of the day, it’s going to be a higher price. We prefer to let the market work.

And so we say, “Bravo” to the House of Representatives for getting it right, and for helping to move our infrastructure more in line with our place in the world.