Network Pioneer Metcalfe Warns Net Neutrality Will Bring Web Taxation

NEWS ANALYSIS: Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe contends that trying to enforce net neutrality under Title II of the Communications Act will bring on taxation of the Internet.

Net Neutrality

OXON HILL, Md.—Networking pioneer Bob Metcalfe warns that trying to impose network neutrality rules under Title II of the federal Communications Act is a bad idea because it will inevitably lead to taxation of Internet traffic.

I interviewed Metcalfe while we were between meetings at the Metro Ethernet Forum's GEN14 Carrier Ethernet event on Nov. 17. He said that network neutrality advocates are playing a dangerous game by advocating the regulation of the Internet by the Federal Communications Commission under Title II as if it was part of the national wire line telephone system.

"They don't remember when the FCC ran the Internet," he told me as we enjoyed the hospitality of the folks at NetEvents who organized the GEN14 conference. Metcalfe, who with colleague David Boggs invented Ethernet when they worked at the legendary Xerox PARC campus, was referring to the days when the only way to reach ArpaNet, the Internet's predecessor, was through dial-up modems using acoustic couplers.

Those modems and the means of reaching external networks were tightly controlled by the government, even to the point that at one time direct connections to the phone network were banned because they might be dangerous. Fortunately, things have changed. The quest for ever more governmental regulation has not.

During the opening keynote speech at the GEN14 event, Metcalfe made a number of references to the ongoing discussions at the FCC and across the country about net neutrality and how to implement it, if indeed it is a good idea at all. As far as Metcalfe is concerned, net neutrality, at least in regards to forcing the Internet into Title II of the Communications Act, is a very bad idea.

But Metcalfe said that large companies including Google, which has gone on record supporting the use of Title II as the path for Internet regulation and fairness, were wrong. "Google is playing with fire," Metcalfe said.

"Google makes a lot of money from advertising on search and they get a lot of it for free. They went to Washington and want to get the FCC involved." In reality, he said, "They're inviting the government to get involved with the internet."

What will ultimately happen, Metcalfe said is "The government will get involved with running Google. Why should companies that pay Google for advertising get a fast lane?"

But as far as Metcalfe is concerned bigger problems follow on from there. "I wonder if they realized that the government could tax the Internet with the universal service tax. That's an average of seven bucks a month," he said.

An examination of the Title II legislation indicates that Metcalfe may be right. Current legislation that blocks taxes on the Internet doesn't apply to Title II services. Likewise, if the Internet becomes part of Title II, states and localities could apply the same taxes to the Internet that they currently apply to phone service.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...