The need for legislation insuring "network neutrality" has become an article of faith among many Internet fans, and they are finding a much more sympathetic ear in the new Democratic Congress. But in recent days, two titans of the Internet have warned that any effort to insure net neutrality be prohibiting network operators by charging for premium service could cripple the future of the Net.
In today's Washington Post (free registration required) David Farber of Carnegie Mellon University and Michael L. Katz of the University of California at Berkeley warn that "we should wait until there is a problem before rushing to enact solutions." They cite the danger that the sort of legislation being considered could make it impossible for network operators to manage traffic to give priority to the most valuable services, say real-time medical monitoring information.
Last week, in a lecture at the Computer History Museum (Windows video available) Robert Kahn, one of the original architects of the Internet, issued a similar warning. Net neutrality, he said, was "a slogan" and that premature legislation could cripple the sort of experimentation needed to build a better, faster, more reliable net for the future.
One oddity of the current fight is that many of the advocate of neutrality portray themselves as opponents of a corporate takeover of the democratic Internet. But the fight is being bankrolled by the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.com, big corporations if I've ever seen them. A lot of what;s going on is really a struggle for economic advantage between two groups of big companies, neither of which are much concerned about openess or democracy.