Powell Warns Net Neutrologists Not to Be Naive

By James Seng
James Seng

Just got this email from this snippet of speech made by former FCC Chairman @ F2C organized by David Isenberg:

"Former FCC chairman Michael Powell is up on the stage at the Freedom to Connect conference right now, and he warns the tech elite crowd here not to be naive about the dangers of asking Congress for legislation on Net Neutrality. As he explains:

The legislative process does not work well when it has a weak understanding of innovation and tech policy. You are talking about 535 members who need to get this. They have a very shallow understanding [of Net Neutrality]. If you go give them a quiz about the seven layers of the Internet, good luck.

You live by the sword, you die by the sword. It is much harder get a law off the books than to get it on. Someone will think it is a good idea to apply the same rules to the other side's products and services. Be careful because you are playing their game [the telcos']. We are talking about resources, ability, and 100 years of skill."

I am pro-legislation on Net Neutrality. I believe there is a cause for government intervention when there is a market failure and there is clearly a dilemma in US right now (although I wont call it a market failure yet as Verizon has not taken any action so far).

Reading this report almost made me a convert...almost.

The lack of understanding of technology in the Congress is indeed a problem. While law making in US are pretty similar to this part of the world, a handful of people will prepare the document and eventually present it to the Cabinet/Congress for discussion, modification and finally approval, the process is more political in US.

At least Asians have one trait which is helpful: They don't talk when they don't know what they are talking about. So questions are raised only if the member has some knowledge of the topic or a vested interest in the outcome. This culture difference is something I overlooked in my original assessment.

The lack of knowledge of Internet within the Congress is also related to his second point. The Bells have 100 years of lobbying experience and have establish strong relationship with the members. It also means the members are more familiar with the Bell-heads' point of view and their position. It is a game the Bells excel in.

Nevertheless, it is equally dangerous to think we should ignore the political front just because we, the Net-head, are weaker in the lobbying game. Not engaging Congress is a mistake because the Bell-head is and will. Remember, the Net Neutrality debate was brought to the Congress by the Bell-head, not Net-head. This wont be the last of it.

Perhaps it is too early to ask for legislation right now. Perhaps this is why Verizon is pushing for it right now. In the long run, lobbying is something the larger Net companies must do. Luckily, some already did (hired veteran lobbyists).

By James Seng, Vice President. Visit the blog maintained by James Seng here.

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Net Neutrality, Policy & Regulation, Telecom

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