Hey there, conservatives: Net neutrality is your issue, too.
Innovation, economic growth, and the health of content providers are what's at stake as the FCC moves toward a new set of rules governing the Internet. Until now, much of the discussion about the future of the Internet has focused on issues like freedom of expression, fairness, and metered pricing -- real concerns, to be sure. But a pair of academic research papers circulated by the Open Internet Coalition puts the issue in economic perspective.
[ Moves by Apple to block apps from the iPhone show why legislation to preserve equal access to the Internet is needed now more than ever. | AT&T talks the talk about Net neutrality, but don't believe it: The big carriers have a different idea. ]
Here's the core of the argument, in a paper by Inimai M. Chettiar and J. Scott Holladay of New York University's Institute for Policy Integrity:
Without Net neutrality rules, new technologies could lead to pricing practices that transfer wealth from content providers to ISPs, a form of price discrimination that would reduce the return on investment for Internet content -- meaning Web site owners, bloggers, newspapers, and businesses would have less incentive to expand their sites and applications.
What's more, developers and IT as a whole will be hurt if providers are allowed to discriminate against particular applications that might make money for someone else.
The Net neutrality issue is sometimes framed by the usual left/right split in American public life. But I'd argue that conservatives who believe in a free market should join libertarians -- and, yes, liberals -- in the fight for an open Net.
What a neutral Internet really means
Here's how the Internet works today: "Last-mile facilities-based broadband Internet access service providers provide users with access to the Internet, but they are expected to route all traffic in a nondiscriminatory manner. They do not charge Internet content or application providers to reach users, and they are expected to route traffic without regard to what that traffic contains, who it is from, or where it is going," writes Christiaan Hogendorn, a Wesleyan University economist.