Friday, May 19, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Un-Neutral Neutrality--Postmodern Conundrums

Among the arguments deployed by net neutralists is that a regulatory mandate will give small, would-be innovators access to end-users without "gatekeeping" by broadband access providers. Since we are all postmodernists now, having digested the lessons of Larry Lessig's Code, we further know that the regulatory "code" will affect the path of innovation on the Internet, opening up some paths but foreclosing others. And to fully embrace the deconstructive import of this point, it follows that one can not have a normative preference for one path of innovation over another, without re-importing some normative preferences back into the decidely skeptical, postmodern analytic of Code.

Accordingly, if we must reimport a normative moral vision of the Internet and its structure, there is both a foundational problem for this vision and a practical problem of choosing one normative vision over another (or, in good postmodern skeptical fashion, we could simply be resigned that it is all power relationships, but then out ultimate objection to the ultimate normative outcome is decidedly feeble). But if we are going to be practical people, and not get drowned in my thicket of jargon written-above, then we must make some judgments about preferred paths for innovation given the choice of a rule, or not, will determine some of the outcomes.

Net Neutrality regulation expresses a categorical vision of a vertically disintegrated, non-price differentiated, non-quality or latency differentiated Internet. It follows that this will affect the paths of innovation, including the investment decisions by access, applications and content providers. For instance, unable to price or quality-differentiate, broadband access providers will be forbidden from specializing low latency, high quality connections for certain content or applications providers. In turn, it follows that innovation at higher levels of the Internet will trend away from high quality, low latency applications and content (like HD video or online gaming) because the infrastructure rules will not support these types of arrangements. In other words, both net neutrality regulated and a market-determined Internet will establish paths for growth, retrenchment and innovation depending on the rules. The market, however, will allow more paths to open up by allowing broader experimentation with business and compensation models.

I just can't figure out how net neutrality proponents can be so assured of the normative superiority of their outcomes.

posted by Ray Gifford @ 11:44 AM | Net Neutrality