Inside net neutrality with FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell


I have many concerns regarding imposing mandatory regulations on the Internet, so it is hard to put one at the top of the list. But, one concern is that the proposed regulations may not necessarily be structured in a way to protect consumers. The U.S. government's bipartisan policy since the Clinton-Gore administration has been to allow a competitive free market and non-governmental organizations, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, handle Internet governance.

Broadband providers have the direct connection with the consumers, and it is in their best interest to keep their customers happy. I worry that the proposed rules could set up a "Mother-May-I" regime on top of other unintended consequences we cannot foresee, whereby new innovations could be inhibited by the uncertainty created by net neutrality rules. Consumers could suffer as a result.

What effects do you think mandatory standards will have on broadband network and equipment investment and software programming? Will these standards stimulate or freeze investment and innovation, or turn out to be neutral?

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in America's broadband networks since the Internet was privatized in 1994. More investment is pouring in over the horizon. New rules, regardless of their context, always invite litigation and, therefore, uncertainty. Capital avoids uncertainty. It is not hard to envision a scenario where new investment is inhibited by new rules. Investors of all kinds told the FCC as much during our Oct.1 hearing on investment in the broadband market.

Turning to network administration, when the commission issued the Network Neutrality Notice, you pointed out that "the public interest would be better served if the debate would focus more on" the dichotomy between "anti-competitive" and "anti-discriminatory" network administration. In your view, network engineers necessarily discriminate and it's a chimera to belabor discrimination.