Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Wall Street crisis and its lessons for net neutrality

Art Brodsky
The laws regulating the telecommunications world and those regulating the financial world have a joint history. The Communications Act of 1934 wasn’t passed in a vacuum. It was part of a new generation of laws that passed after the Depression, including the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A law was passed in 1935 giving the Federal government the power to regulate interstate electricity, which updated a 1920 law governing water power much as the Communications Act updated the Federal Radio Act of 1927.

The Communications Act, as with the laws of the same era, was passed with the intent of protecting the public from the abuses of private industry. The basic tenets of non-discrimination were written into that law. If regulators do their jobs, everyone wins – the industry makes money and provides services, and consumers aren’t harmed. If regulators don’t do their jobs, and/or if a compliant Congress passes laws allowing for an industry to run wild by taking away federal regulation, then it’s a different story. That’s what happened in financial services and in telecommunications the last few years, and now we’re suffering the results.

We’re seeing that last scenario play out now on Wall Street, as firms acted unwisely with no government oversight, and the public ends up losing, whether from the taxpayer perspective, the loss of jobs, or the dumping into the toilet of retirement plans based on the stock market.

I am very concerned that the whole Web 2.0 crowd and the entire tech community are way too complacent about net neutrality. It is true that articles about net neutrality are regularly featured on Slashdot's front page and tech publications have done some great reporting on this, but I think too many people take the point-to-point architecture of the Web for granted and don't realize the entire basis of their business model could be destroyed.

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