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Feb 11, 2006 2:43pm

lessig on net netrality

On February 7, 2006, Professor Lawrence Lessig appeared before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's hearing on Network Neutrality. A few excerpts from his testimony follow. Lessig is an amazing logician, and his writings on legal issues on-line are worth reading.

On the rational basis for his argument:

...there is something especially wrong with network owners telling content or service providers that they can't access a meaningful broadband network unless they pay an access- tax. I don't mean "wrong" in the sense of immoral, or even unfair. My argument is not about the social justice of Internet access. I mean "wrong" in the sense that such a policy will inevitably weaken application competition on the Internet, and that in turn will weaken Internet growth.

On diversity:

This diversity of innovators is no accident. By minimizing the control by the network itself, the "end-to-end" design maximizes the range of competitors who can innovate for the network. Rather than concentrating the right to innovate in a few network owners, the right to innovate is open to anyone, anywhere. That architecture, in turn, has created an astonishing range of important and economically valuable innovation.

On the history of current Internet behemoths:

For the first time, network owners would have a strategic capability, as well as incentive, to create barriers to entry for new innovators. We should remember that the current leaders in Internet innovation all began with essentially nothing. Google, eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon all started as simple websites providing limited, but fantastic, services. They had to pay no special access-tax to be on the Internet; there was no special channeling by Internet providers that disadvantage these competitors relative to any others. They succeeded because the product they offered was better than others. Competition on the merits thus drove this market.

Suggestions for Congress:

It is my view that any policy that weakens competition is a policy that will weaken the prospects for Internet and economic growth. I therefore urge this Committee to secure and supplement the work of Chairman Powell, by enacting legislation that protects the environment for Internet innovation and competition that the original Internet produced.

In a nutshell, Lessig is arguing that the current kerfuffle about network neutrality brought on by belligerent recommendations from At+T and others ("...what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that..." - Ed Whiteacre, SBC AT+T) is an attempt to create scarcity where none exists. It's the same fundamental response to the Internet we're seeing from the music and film industries, and there's no need for it.

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