My former co-blogger Ryan Radia has an excellent op-ed on the network neutrality debate. I particularly liked his discussion of the relative merits of open platforms:
In the battle between open and closed devices, wireless subscribers have voted with their wallets. So far, they have preferred the iPhone over open source devices like the “Google phone.” In the intensely competitive wireless market, the iPhone’s success shows that innovation can occur, and even thrive, within the confines of proprietary ecosystems like the iPhone.
But under the FCC’s proposed neutrality rules, the iPhone and similar devices that place limits on the content and applications that users can access would likely be against the law.
To be sure, the virtues that neutrality proponents espouse– open access, transparency, democracy, and the like– are all legitimate, even important values. Arguably, the open nature of the Internet has been instrumental in fostering many of the innovations that consumers enjoy today. But it is wrong to assume, as neutrality proponents do, that today’s “capital-I” Internet is the end all, be all network, and that the future of global communications ought not include some proprietary elements.
Technological innovation is an unpredictable beast. Networks for transmitting data that have yet to emerge– so-called “splinternets”– may well reshape the nature of global communications in years ahead. One need only look to the FCC’s widely criticized telephone and cable regulations to witness how rigid federal mandates can thwart high-tech evolution and steer the market in unnatural directions.
I think my sympathies are a little more on the “open” side of the debate than Ryan’s are. But I think this strikes the right tone from a policy perspective. If I’m right that open networks are superior to closed ones, then they’re likely to succeed in the marketplace without or without government help. On the other hand, if I’m wrong, there’s a real danger that regulating now will lock in an architecture that we might want to see change in the future. Either way, the right thing to do is to wait and see how the market evolves, not regulate based on highly speculative harms. Ryan’s piece is worth reading in its entirety.