Network Pioneer Metcalfe Warns Net Neutrality Will Bring Web Taxation

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-11-19 Print this article Print
Net Neutrality

While there's sure to be a hue and cry by some about taxing the Internet, the chances are that such an action would not be prevented by Congress. "The Republican Congress won't raise taxes," one senior telecommunications executive who asked to remain anonymous told me at the event, "but the Universal Service Fund is shrinking as land line use diminishes and one way or another the government wants that money."

And depending on how the net neutrality debate finally shakes out, the idea of "fairness" could easily fall into the hole of unintended consequences that's so well known around Washington.

Metcalfe suggests that providers could lose control over advertising, for example, if the FCC or another agency decided that giving certain advertisers prominent positions on Websites or search results violated net neutrality. Does that seem far-fetched?

Television broadcasters already see a form of such control in how and when they run some ads. In some cases they are even told what rates they can charge and even what products they're allowed to run ads for as well as the times of day those ads can run.

For example, television broadcasters are required to sell ads to political candidates, regardless of their message and to give them the best advertising positions. They're prohibited from running liquor ads at certain times of the day and they're prohibited from selling ads to tobacco companies at all.

This sort of control, even if that's all that happened, would transform the Internet in ways all but the most extreme fans of government regulation would find objectionable.

But given the obvious problems with the practices of a few Internet providers, isn't some kind of control necessary? Metcalfe doesn't think so. What he thinks is necessary is for real competition to exist on the Internet, something that's fairly rare in the United States.

While many opponents of net neutrality claim that there's already competition in the U.S., in most cases that's simply not true. In most localities, consumers have only a single choice, or perhaps one choice of true broadband service and one choice for access using something antiquated like DSL service. Effectively, there's only one choice of broadband networks available to most people in most areas.

This is a problem that puts Internet service providers in a monopolistic position in many areas. The answer, Metcalfe thinks, is to open up broadband Internet services to real competition so that users have an actual choice.

Then when consumers and businesses have a choice of providers and can switch whenever they wish, the existence of actual competition will force Internet providers to provide fair service at a fair price. But that of course, will also require the FCC to act.


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