The Democrats’ efforts to preserve our Internet freedom through net neutrality legislation needs more help, according to U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who held a press conference today in order to recruit more sponsors for his net neutrality bill and petition more citizens to make their views known on the topic. But after listening to Markey and the other folks on the call, I think that now, more than ever, Congress needs to stay out of legislating net neutrality.
The trouble with highly technical issues like network neutrality is that they’re complicated, and Congress isn’t an ideal place to solve complicated — and constantly evolving — issues (unless we let the telco lobbyists write the legislation). Net neutrality isn’t a political issue, it’s an economic one. The key is ensuring that telecommunications firms don’t discriminate against certain kinds of traffic, especially traffic coming over the Internet that might compete with products the ISPs already offer, as well as that folks trying to offer a web-based service don’t have to pay a toll to offer it to consumers. The benefits of such openness accrue to consumers as well as to companies trying to build businesses on the Internet.
Given how complicated it is to manage a network, and to figure out how to deliver all of the packets flowing over the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission is a far better organization to address this issue. Through the notice of proposed rulemaking issued last week, the FCC is putting in place a multimonth process that will seek input from engineers, the aforementioned telco lobbyists, consumers and even the civil rights groups. That conversation will be far more nuanced and subject to less grandstanding than the debate in Congress. For a good example of those nuances, check out our new GigaOM Pro piece (subscription required) on net neutrality, which both acknowledges that traffic discrimination will have to take place, and debates how that should work.