[Special Section on Net Neutrality] Network Neutrality: The Debate Evolves

Gerald R. Faulhaber


The network neutrality debate burst on political scene in late 2005-early 2006, centered on alleged incentives by broadband ISPs to act as Internet “gatekeepers,” disadvantaging certain Internet applications toward anticompetitive ends. The debate is a continuation of an earlier debate on “open access” and was spurred by two high-profile events that appeared to presage such anticompetitive behavior. Self-styled defenders of the Internet joined forces with interested parties such as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft to demand legislation protecting the “neutrality” of the Internet, to ensure that broadband ISPs could in no way control the bits that passed between end-customers and application providers. Predictably, the broadband ISPs objected to any legislation, stating they had no intention of keeping their customers from the content they desired.

In the heat of this debate, exactly what net neutrality is has been subject to change as the debate has evolved. In this paper, I identify what appear to be the three major components of the net neutrality argument and analyze each in turn. Only one component (vertical foreclosure) of the net neutrality argument raises valid concerns; I discuss whether those concerns are best dealt with by ex ante laws or ex post enforcement of existing law/regulation. The paper closes with a discussion of how vertical foreclosure issues may become more serious with the advent of IPTV.

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