FCC’s McDowell: If He Won’t Regulate, Who Will?

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell leaped into the opinion-making fray in the net neutrality debate today, with an editorial in the Washington Post that some have called a sober assessment of the debate, while others have deemed it just more talking points from a former lobbyist.

I actually agree this time that McDowell’s essay is more sensible than most from the GOP side of things, even with a few slips into “regulations will kill the Internet” territory of tired telco BS. Generally it’s not a bad read and it does well to note that in previous instances of Internet pipe-clogging, it was engineers, not lawyers and lobbyists, who solved the problem. A good thing to remember.

What is interesting is to see McDowell say that technical and business solutions are the only way to fix net neutrality problems, at one point claiming the FCC itself simply can’t move fast enough to deliver sensible regulations in Internet time. (So maybe, it’s best we don’t rely on Bob and his co-workers!) But you have to wonder how such “collaborations” might occur in a real world, where typically one party has market power and the other doesn’t. McDowell says the government can step in if needed, but if there are no rules or no clear jurisdiction, then how and when will the government decide to act?

McDowell says, “Sometimes shining sunlight on issues produces amazingly beneficial effects, and the public interest groups that raised the BitTorrent matter should be praised for doing so… Let’s stick with what works and encourage collaboration over regulation.”

A great idea, but would Madison River have stopped blocking Vonage, if not for the FCC’s actions? Would Comcast have listened to the Free Press complaint, or would it have just gone on denying there was a problem, if not for the threat of potential regulator penalties?

For every Comcast-BitTorrent agreement, there is an Ed Whitacre, ready to say you can’t ride his pipes for free. Ed is retired now, but many who would argue with him remember… and perhaps aren’t as willing to trust in collaboration as McDowell is.

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