Network neutrality nuts and bolts

I am told on good authority that the article "Nuts and Bolts of Network Neutrality" , by Edward W. Felton of Princeton University, is an excellent overview of the issues: "concise, well-informed and doesn’t take sides".

As Felton says: "Network neutrality is a vexing issue. Proponents of neutrality regulation argue that the free, innovative Internet of today is threatened and government action is needed to protect it. Opponents argue that regulation is not needed, or will be flawed in practice, or is a bad idea even in principle."

Felton reckons that one of the reasons the debate gets so complicated and polarised is that few people understand the technical issues. His article, therefore, sets out to explain them, in the hope of clarifying the debate. He concludes:

"The network neutrality issue is more complex and subtle than most of the advocates on either side would have you believe. Net neutrality advocates are right to worry that ISPs [Internet service providers] can discriminate—and have the means and motive to do so—in ways that might be difficult to stop. Opponents are right to say that enforcing neutrality rules may be difficult and error-prone. Both sides are right to say that making the wrong decision can lead to unintended side-effects and hamper the Internet’s development.

There is a good policy argument in favor of doing nothing and letting the situation develop further. The present situation, with the network neutrality issue on the table in Washington but no rules yet adopted, is in many ways ideal. ISPs, knowing that discriminating now would make regulation seem more necessary, are on their best behavior; and with no rules yet adopted we don’t have to face the difficult issues of line-drawing and enforcement. Enacting strong regulation now would risk side-effects, and passing toothless regulation now would remove the threat of regulation. If it is possible to maintain the threat of regulation while leaving the issue unresolved, time will teach us more about what regulation, if any, is needed."

The full article is available at this link, as a PDF.