July 25, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Downes: Waxman’s Net Neutrality Proposal Less Dangerous Than Genachowki’s

Net neutrality advocates have argued for years that without immediate government intervention, Internet access providers are certain to “smother the open Internet” by blocking access to websites they either don’t like or which won’t pay premium fees to reach consumers.“The end of the Internet as we know it,” as net neutrality supporters put it, is always just around the corner.But nothing of the kind has happened. As consumers themselves acknowledge in survey after survey, the Internet is working just fine. The handful of instances of ISP interference with consumer web traffic have had little to do with profits and mostly with curbing the bandwidth-hogging habits of file sharers.At the same time, a rush to regulate the rapidly evolving Internet economy is much more likely to create harmful unintended consequences. The Internet as we know it would not so much be preserved as petrified, entombed like an insect in solid amber. Real innovation — think Amazon’s Kindle network, next-generation game consoles and cloud computing — would be unnecessarily constrained, funneled into a needlessly regulated Jurassic Business Park.So, why the urgency? Ironically, the excessive rhetoric of some net neutrality supporters seems to be a response to the possibility of a legislative compromise. A recent joint proposal from Google and Verizon, for example, formed the basis for a bill that circulated in Rep. Henry Waxman’s Committee on Energy and Commerce in the final weeks of the legislative session. Though the bill has not been introduced, the process demonstrated just how close to agreement most of the parties really are.With access providers, content companies and regulators moving closer to a middle ground, political elements in the pro-regulation camp have become apoplectic about the need for radical agency action. “FCC Chairman [Julius] Genachowski must act now, before it is too late,” the Media Access Project wrote last month. “The time has passed for compromise on net neutrality,” The Seattle Times said. “It’s put-up or shut-up time for the FCC’s net-neutrality advocates,” according to The Washington Post.Is it? Everyone in the net neutrality debate agrees that preserving the open Internet has been the priority all along. Rather, the chance for a pre-election compromise was upended in part when groups such as Free Press threatened to quit the Open Internet Coalition for supporting the effort. And Waxman hasn’t given up on hopes for a legislative solution, noting that “cooler heads may prevail after the elections.”So far, at least, those cooler heads include Chairman Genachowski. More than a year ago, he introduced a proposal for the FCC to enforce specific and largely workable net neutrality rules, following up on a campaign promise made by President Barack Obama.But the regulatory momentum stalled after a federal court of appeals held this spring that the FCC doesn’t have the sweeping authority over broadband Internet access the agency claimed for itself. The pending rulemaking has been left hanging.

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