Larry Lessig points out that the history of the Internet, and the blend of regulation and laissez-faire, is being distorted by those who want to hand over more and more control to the duopoly of telcos and cablecos:
The Washington Internet Daily (which apparently is not on the Internet) has a story predicting the Telecom Bill will pass the House this year. The only sticking point seems to be the “controversial” “net neutrality” proposal. Says Howard Waltzman, the committee's majority chief telecom counsel, and “net neutrality” opponent: “We're going to rely on the market to regulate these services and not have a heavy hand in government regulation.” Waltzman thinks net neutrality regulation would turn “broadband pipes into railroads and regulating them under common carriage.” As he explains:
“The reason the Internet has thrived is because it's existed in an unregulated environment. Regulating… under common carriage would be a complete step backward for the Internet.”
So half right, but wholly wrong. For of course, when the Internet first reached beyond research facilities to the masses, it did so on regulated lines — telephone lines. Had the telephone companies been free of the “heavy hand” of government regulation, it's quite clear what they would have done — they would have killed it, just as they did when Paul Baran first proposed the idea in 1964. It was precisely because they were not free to kill it, because the “heavy hand[ed]” regulation required them to act neutrally, that the Internet was able to happen, and then flourish. So Waltzman's wrong about the Internet's past. But he's certainly right about what a mandated net neutrality requirement would be. It would certainly be a “complete step backward for the Internet” — back to the time when we were world leaders in Internet penetration, and competition kept prices low and services high. Today, in the world where the duopoly increasingly talks about returning us to the world where innovation is as the network owners says, broadband in the US sucks. We are somewhere between 12th and 19th in the world, depending upon whose scale you use. As the Wall Street Journal reported two months ago, broadband in the US is “slow and expensive.” Verizon's entry-level broadband is $14.95 for 786 kbs. That about $20 per megabit. In FRANCE, for $36/m, you get 20 megabits/s — or about $1.80 per megabit. How did France get it so good? By following the rules the US passed in 1996, but that telecoms never really followed (and cable companies didn't have to follow): “strict unbundling.” That's the same in Japan — fierce competition induced by “heavy handed” regulation producing a faster, cheaper Internet.