Net neutrality numbers don't add up

A new study suggests regulating the Net will cost millions of jobs. A closer look reveals the study's main ingredient is manure, Cringely concludes

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What exactly was this onerous government regulation? It was a requirement, written into the 1996 Telecommunications Act, that the Baby Bells had to open their Central Offices to competitors like Covad and Northpoint who wanted to provide high-speed Internet access over the Bells' own copper lines. Congress passed this legislation in part because the Bells were dragging their heels bringing broadband to the masses.

Not that they did this willingly -- in fact, the Bells seemed to do everything in their power to avoid complying. In 1999 and 2000, Covad filed antitrust suits against Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) and BellSouth (now part of AT&T) for practices relating to this runaround.

There are many reasons why DSL languished compared to cable in the early years of broadband. Delivering DSL over copper lines involves more variables and more barriers -- including a customer's proximity to a central office, the quality of their phone service, the amount of non-DSL-compatible fiber in the ground, and the Baby Bells' own bureaucratic intransigence. This process was widely known as "DSL hell," and it's why the DSL Reports site was created and continues to flourish.

In any case, it's hard to see how government regulation was the problem when the Bells largely refused to comply with it. You'd think being forced to share aging copper lines with startups would have encouraged the Bells to invest in better, higher-speed networks, not the opposite. Extrapolating from that regulatory situation to Net neutrality is like taking laws regulating manure production by draft horses to make projections about the future of the space shuttle.

Meanwhile, Brett Glass, who for many years had a popular column in InfoWorld (and now runs a small ISP in Wyoming), begs to differ with me on several key issues around Net neutrality.

His main point: Net neutrality rules as currently written are not actually neutral. They benefit Google in particular because it owns its own backbone and, thus, can prioritize and manage its own traffic at will, free from any government constraint.

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