Some of you may have seen the paper PFF published yesterday by Dr. Alfred Kahn titled "A Democratic Voice of Caution on Network Neutrality." All of us at PFF were quite pleased to be able to publishe the perspective of one of the country's leading experts on deregulation. Dr. Kahn is the author of The Economics of Regulation: Principles and Institutions, and led the deregulation of the airline and trucking industries under President Carter. The piece originated as a comment Dr. Kahn posted to a PFF blog entry last week commenting on the opposition to network neutrality regulations by another prominent Damocrat, Bill Kennard.
I think Dr. Kahn's perspective is important for many reasons, perhaps primarily because he is a renowned expert on regulation and markets. But I think it's also important that a man who calls himself a liberal Democrat points out that it may not be wise for the Democratic Party to align itself with pro-regulatory forces such as those behind network neutrality. (Note he doesn't dismiss net neutrality, just as I don't, he just feels current laws and agencies can protect consumers.)
Tech policy traditionally has not been partisan. I pointed that out regarding IP policy at a recent Congressional Seminar we hosted. We also haven't seen it in telecom. Tauzin-Dingell was a bipartisan bill that had Republicans and Democrats backing it and Republicans and Democrats opposing it. Bill Kennard (D) and Michael Powell (R) both were deregulatory in their own way. Even the uber-liberal Reed Hundt gave us spectrum auctions.
As an independent, I dislike partisanship creeping into digital age policy debates. I worked for Harry Reid (D), then married a woman who became a top aide to Nancy Kassebaum (R). I've voted Democrat, Republican and Libertarian. Bottom line, I'm extremely resistant to the notion of pledging my loyalty to any particular group, when it's quite likely that group will choose to back policies I disagree with. I'd much prefer to form alliances with like-minded people, D or R.
This year the Democratic Party endorsed network neutrality regulations as part of its party platform. The Republican Party by and large has lined up against it. But I take comfort in the positions of Bill Kennard and Alfred Kahn, who I doubt would say they are "with Republicans" on this issue. They likely would say they are with markets, and no party has a monopoly on respecting markets. Let's hope whoever is running Capitol Hill next year leaves partisanship out when dealing with tech policy and markets. We'll all be better off.