The first rule of innovation in government should be similar to the first rule of medicine — “First do no harm.”
But addicted government interventionists simply can’t control themselves. In Wednesday’s Boston Globe Op Ed page Kamarck prescribes fixes for what is not broken: the global Internet. She wants to end net neutrality and proposes mandating pricing and policy changes on Internet Service providers (ISPs). Excerpts (emphasis mine):
In any other business model, growing to meet this demand would be easy. Rapid growth usually provides more money for investment. But the Internet business got started as a flat-fee business - we all pay one monthly fee regardless of how much bandwidth we use. The grandmother who stares dreamily at her grandchild on Skype pays the same monthly rate as the grandmother who sends an e-mail wanting to know if he's learned to say "dada" yet.
Over at MIT, the Communications Futures Program argues that we are fast coming to a turning point - either the flat-rate pricing models have to end so that there can be more investment, or the Internet will slow to a crawl. Pricing changes will be unpopular to consumers accustomed to what they call "all you can eat" prices.
Did she ever consider that ISPs themselves might (when facing capacity constraints) create different service levels and sell some at a premium?
Another available option is to charge the generators of video such as YouTube higher fees for access and continue with the flat rate pricing models.
Exactly this plan has been proposed, and was rejected by our legislators.
In the past, when Internet service providers have tried to raise rates, someone has come along and offered the same service for less. But this history may be coming to an end,
I’ll make that bet with you, lady. Private innovators are far less likely to gum up the Internet's workings than a policy bureaucracy that originates in Washington.
and that's why they are urging the companies to change their pricing structure
Which is a far different prescription than getting government involved in dictating pricing and priority.
It will be difficult to get phone companies to charge the prices necessary to pay for new investments in Internet infrastructure. No one can make them do so, for the Internet is not regulated. But industry will need to take into account the public interest.
We need to start thinking about a variety of options…
Excuse me Elaine, but exactly who are you including in this “we”?
Perhaps we should look at different pricing structures for different online activities or require the use of "smart" networks that give lower priority to entertainment-related data than to packets of data in areas like telemedicine. Many Internet activities are in the broad public interest. We need to make sure those aren't hampered because, somewhere in the world, teenagers are playing online games or grandmas are staring at their children's babies.
But just maybe, Elaine, KSG bureaucrats-in-waiting should offer some benign neglect to this non-problem and expect that businesses which have (to some degree) incentives to profit by selling their own services can figure out how to restructure, market, and price these services and how much and when to invest in new capacity as customer service requirements change (and they change VERY quickly on the Internet).
The Internet has done pretty well at serving the public for the past 20 years, much better than any US government agencies I can think of. It has done so even though it has not had the benefit of regulations thought up by do-gooders at the Kennedy School of Government.
Take you own advice, please, Elaine. "Do no harm".
As for predictions from MIT that the Internet will collapse under the weight of expanding use, they have been around for well over 10 years. The most famous such was by Robert Metcalfe (PhD from MIT, inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Com). For many years Metcalfe wrote an influential column in Infoworld. In a December 1995 column he wrote:
"I PREDICT the Internet...will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse."
With typical flair, Metcalfe offered to eat his words at the end of 1996 if his prediction didn’t come true. He ate a piece of paper containing his incorrect prediction at a press conference a year later.
Metcalfe’s 1995 prediction was made as the Web and HTTP were taking off. But it was long before Google, Facebook, Ebay, Napster, Skype, or YouTube required much bandwidth.
He could have been right, of course. Certainly the technologies of the Internet have never been very far ahead of its amazing growth. But thousands of very bright people work very hard every day to help the Internet keep up. Much of their work is done within for-profit entities, but much also is done in non-profit standards bodies (whose activities are largely underwritten by the private sector through pro-bono participation of their own people).
Ironically, Kamarck’s own political mentor, the Nobel prixe winning Al Gore, proposed in the early 1990s that the US government should build an “information superhighway” so that important new network technologies could flourish without being hampered because, somewhere in the world, teenagers are playing online games or grandmas are staring at their children's babies” on the Internet.
Happily, Gore’s early pleadings were ignored. He then “moved on” to discover global warming.