Thursday, June 08, 2006

Network Neutrality

It is rare for me to come across a major issue in economic policy that I haven't thought about enough to have at least a tentative opinion. But sometimes it happens.

In today's Washington Post, Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney have an op-ed arguing forcefully for the principle of network neutrality. If Congress fails to act, we are told, the internet itself is threatened! They conclude:

People are waking up to what's at stake, and their voices are growing louder by the day. As millions of citizens learn the facts, the message to Congress is clear: Save the Internet.
After reading this, I turned to a slightly older op-ed by Robert Litan, a smart, sensible, and moderate economist and lawyer, who takes the opposite view:

We all want our broadband and the benefits it can bring. Let's hope our policy-makers in Washington can resist the siren song of "net neutrality" and keep government out of Internet regulation so that the future that beckons becomes a reality.
The arguments in the two pieces are too subtle to summarize quickly (or maybe I just don't fully understand them), so I encourage those interested in the issue to follow the links.

After reading these two pieces, I am inclined to give the edge to Litan, in part because his piece is more infused with economic reasoning and in part because I am naturally suspect of the alarmist tone of Lessig and McChesney. But it is clear that I need to read more before I figure this out. If readers know of other pieces written on the issue, especially any by economists, please post a comment.