Don't let net neutrality foes stifle innovation

The push for net neutrality rules by FCC Chairman Genachowski has stirred quite a heated debate. I decided to address this issue through the prism of the broadband stimulus program, since hundreds of entities decided to apply for grants despite net neutrality and open access requirements.

First, hearing all the bluster from big incumbents about how unfair net neutrality rules are and how much they contribute to the demise of innovation, methinks: "The lady doth protest too much." Underneath their pushback is the underlying threat that, without incumbents' support, these rules are DOA.

The giants put a similar fine whine out on the table when they didn't apply for broadband stimulus grants. But alas, they were "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," as 2,200 applications poured in from others stepping into the breach. There are plenty of local governments and smaller service providers that can profitably build networks and offer services that consumers and businesses want, and without being tripped up by net neutrality.

If you look at history, it's often been small, initially anonymous companies that drove technology innovation, creativity and competition. The biggest companies were often the slowest to innovate but the fastest to obstruct, if not outright kill innovation. Though I'm not sure I'd want to be Mr. Genachowski stepping into the wireless lion's den at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference in October, neither he nor other net neutrality advocates should back down from their position. 

Want to go cross-country by train or by plane?

Another contentious point is whether wireless networks should be exempt from net neutrality laws. One argument for exempting cellular providers is that capacity is limited, so by default they need to throttle content from and to bandwidth hogs.

I believe that to give in to this position is to sacrifice the good of consumers and businesses to appease companies whose technology is lagging. I compiled a list of 10 communities from dozens in the U.S. that have built their own networks, or partnered (i.e. have skin in the game) with private companies. They reveal some interesting numbers.

Franklin County, Va.'s wireless network gives you a max of 3.5 Mbps down, 2 Mbps up. Allegany County, Md., offers commercial users up to 100 Mbps on its wireless network. Cambria County, Pa., offers 15 Mbps retail, 30 Mbps wholesale. Prestonburg, Ky., with its humble city-run WiFi network, puts out 3.5 Mbps. These communities don't worry about net neutrality requirements because they have pretty high throughput...Continued

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