Inside net neutrality with FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell


The practical effect of the proposed net neutrality rules would be that all broadband providers would have to treat all Internet traffic equally. But, the reality is that the Internet can function only if engineers are allowed to "discriminate," otherwise known as "network management." Discriminatory conduct, in the network management space, does not necessarily mean anti-competitive conduct.

Practically speaking, consumers will not tolerate delay or interference when it comes to certain kinds of applications. For example, for users to enjoy online video without interruption or distortion, video bits have to be given priority over e-mail bits. But if traffic must be treated equally, that will have to change and consumers could see a degradation of quality and more delay as a result.

In a voluntary net neutrality regime, how would the roles change for voluntary standards organizations such as the Internet Society (ISOC), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), among others?

Since the early days of the state-run ARPANET, network management and Internet governance initiatives have migrated further away from government regulation. I question whether the government would really be able to replicate the billions of decisions that are made each day in the private sector regarding the Internet. It seems to make more sense that such voluntary standards organizations continue their work in a voluntary regime as they address network issues, including network management.

They should continue to be free of government control and encourage the participation of volunteer engineers, academics and software developers, who act on their own, not on behalf of their employers. The Internet will continue to thrive if these volunteer groups are able to work collaboratively instead of within a government-mandated "top-down" model.