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Thursday, December 28, 2006

What Was the Biggest Tech Policy Story of 2006?
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There are all sorts of year-end / best-of / Top 10 lists being put together right now, but I haven't seen anyone offer up a "Most Important Tech Policy Developments of 2006" list. Geez, isn't everyone else on the planet as interested in this nerdy stuff as we are?!

Anyway, I'd don't have a top ten list, but I do have a nomination for the story that I think belongs on the top of such a list. I think the biggest tech policy story of 2006 was the heated political battle over Net Neutrality regulation and the fact that Congress did NOT pass legislation mandating it. It was a hell of a battle, pitting titans of industry against each other. And in intellectual circles it had policy wonks foaming at the mouth. (You can find all our rumblings on the topic here and here).

I don't think this debate is over, but I'm not sure it will ever be as heated of an affair as it was this year. I also doubt that Net Neutrality mandates have nearly as good of a chance of passing through Congress this coming session since it is less likely there will be a major communications reform bill to attach it to. And there's no way Net Neutrality regulation will pass as a stand-alone measure. There's just too much opposition to it. It would have to be passed as part of some grand communications law reform compromise measure.

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing what others think was the biggest tech policy story of 2006, or at least belongs on the Top 10 list.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 3:49 PM | Generic Rant , Net Neutrality

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I think net "neutrality" may be one of the most dangerous policy threats facing the industry today, and the threat is not limited to what goes on in Washington, D.C. The billionaire boys and the net anarchists have nothing to lose by pushing their tactics at the state level as well, making the prospects of such wrong-headed policy even more harmful to what is essentially interstate (global) commerce.

Regrettably, I fear the industry was slow in differentiating this issue between potentially understandable concerns about blocking, filtering, and affiliate abuse, from the ability (and need) to price differentiate based on service level and network management. Had that happened, it might have taken the wind out of the sails of NN proponents early enough to have avoided the kind of threat we see today.

Although I agree with your political assessment of the prospects for federal legislation this year, I remain troubled about the outlook. With the financial backing of giants like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc., there's no limit to their efforts to push for harmful common carrier type constraints on all broadband providers, and they have every incentive to do so.

Meanwhile, the general public has no idea what really lies behind the slogan "net neutrality" and the media doesn't know enough, or care enough to help educate them.

Mitch Wilk
Former President
California Public Utilities Commission

Posted by: Mitch Wilk at January 5, 2007 2:40 PM

Adam -

The most important telecom development of 2006 was the final one: acceptance by AT&T of onerous merger conditions, including extension of net neutrality by a year past the expiration of prior merger conditions. This sets net neutrality well on its way to full industry acceptance, without the inconvenience of a rulemaking and judicial review.

John Wohlstetter
Senior fellow
Discovery institute

Posted by: John Wohlstetter at January 5, 2007 3:21 PM

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