Predictably, Google and Amazon issued press statements yesterday supporting legislation offered by Reps. Ed Markey (D. Mass.) and Chip Pickering (R. Miss.) that would lay the groundwork for government regulation of broadband network operations. Their theory, apparently, is that network operators have too much power and that they may, as â€œgatekeepers,â€ unreasonably discriminate against certain kinds of content or applications.
What is the old saying about glass houses? As we and others have pointed out on numerous occasions, the â€œmarket powerâ€ of broadband network operators is overstated. There is scant evidence that unreasonable discrimination has occurred in the past and no credible argument that it is likely to occur in the future. Indeed, the instances of network discrimination that have achieved the greatest reclame, including the recent case involving the slowing of certain P2P applications, have in fact been nothing more than efforts by network operators to manage Internet traffic efficiently for the benefit of all customers.
More importantly, though, once government regulators start making inquiries into the potential aggregation of market power that might hamper the future growth and development of the Internet, they likely will not stop at the network level. Today, the applications layer of the Internet is dominated by very large companies that are getting larger. Those companies have achieved their scope and heft though free and fair competition, and they should be applauded for their success. But once the principle of minimal Internet regulation has been cast aside, the proponents of the Markey/Pickering legislation may find themselves in the crosshairs of regulators. Government-managed competition at any level of the Internet should not be a welcome advent.