March 1 2011
While the US debate over net neutrality continues, Europe is leading the way with its hands-off approach to Internet regulation.
Currently, there are two outstanding lawsuits filed against the U.S. Federal Communication Commission's regulatory overreach to impose network management regulations on broadband providers, as well as several measures filed in Congress to defund and de-authorize the FCC's attempts to regulate Internet traffic. The U.S. should look to Europe when deciding what to do about net neutrality.
Cases in which Europe acts as a role model in humility when it comes to regulating aspects of the economy are few and far in between. Usually Americans think of Europe as excessively regulating its economies and they point to several instances where over-regulation has caused harm. High unemployment rates in countries that make it very costly to hire and fire people, for example, are often found in European nations such as Germany, Italy, or Spain. However, when it comes to net neutrality, Europe is showing the U.S. the way with its hands-off approach to Internet regulation.
From the Wall Street Journal's Tech Europe section:
Is throwing net neutrality under the bus the price of a modern European telecom network? While the debate over a free and open Internet has raged in the U.S., it appears in Europe that the argument is largely over; net neutrality lost.
According to Mr. Wittig, the net neutrality debate is over in Europe simply because the market is working without the need for regulation. "The regulators in Europe have said leave it to the market; if you feel the market is not working, then intervene.
I don't think any regulator will ever give the industry permission explicitly to discriminate between content, but if mobile operators charge more for premium services and make it transparent then that is their prerogative."
Additionally, a few weeks ago, U.K culture minister Ed Vaizey made similar statements with respect to the U.K. government's view on net neutrality. Despite some broadband providers' open announcement that they were already considering offering preferential bandwidth to some of their commercial partners:
ISPs such as BT and TalkTalk have openly welcomed the prospect of giving commercial partners preferential bandwidth on their networks, effectively creating a two-tier internet.
However, when asked by Conservative MP Mike Weatherley "what steps he is taking to ensure that the internet market grows in a way that encourages free and fair access to the internet", Culture minister Ed Vaizey said the Government wasn't about to intervene.
"The Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that the internet remains the powerful innovative, competitive and open force for good that it has become since its inception," Vaizey replied in a written statement.
"The internet has brought huge economic and social benefits across the world, and that must continue.
"The internet has developed at an unbelievable pace and in directions which have proved almost impossible to predict. It does not seem wise to introduce legislation to dictate how the internet may or may not evolve," the minister added.
"It has done exceedingly well without our intervention up until now, so until it develops in a way which somehow hurts consumer interests or competition or impedes innovation, it is best if we allow the market to continue to self-regulate."
The U.S. would be well served by following the UK and Europe in their hands-off approach to net neutrality. Why try to fix something that is not broken, only to potentially inflict more harm than good?