Participants, Not Consumers

I don’t know Bob Pepper very well, but I did talk to him a few times while he was at the FCC, and he always seemed thoughtful and knowledgeable. However, when he says that:
Unfortunately, one key constituency often seems left out of this heated debate: the Internet consumer. This oversight is striking since it is end users who, each day, rely on the Internet to conduct their work and personal lives. What policies should be enacted to ensure their maximum choice and flexibility? Consumer empowerment is where the debate should begin — and end.

Network Neutrality: Avoiding a Net Loss By Robert Pepper, TechNewsWorld, 03/14/07 4:00 AM PT

I just have to say that he’s missing the point.

The Internet isn’t about broadcast-era centralized content distribution from a few big producers to a mass of consumers. The Internet is about participation. People IMing other people. People publishing weblogs. People commenting on weblogs. Sales people using corporate extranets. Customers discussing products with other customers and with their vendors. Political activists organizing. Journalists and participatory citizens documenting and examining. And so on and on.

Pepper paraphrases the FCC’s four principles of network neutrality, still using, as the FCC did, the word “consumers” in each and every one of them. He fails to mention that those principles were promulgated by the FCC the same day in August 2005 that they abrogated what actual rules there were for net neutrality.

Pepper asks “Why now?” for the net neutrality debate. Well, that’s why: August 2005.

Doc Searls (even though he may not be for net neutrality laws or regulations), picks apart Pepper’s arguments in much the same way I would:

While I agree with him that more rules may not be necessary, I disagree with the framing of his argument. The Net is not just a service, users don’t just consume it, the market is hardly competitive, and many choices are overpriced or just not there.

Whatever it is, it ain’t neutral, Doc Searls, Doc Searls weblog, 15 March 2007

Doc Searls also says:

Neutrality may be an important Net virtue, but arguing for it distracts from three things that deserve more attention: 1) what the carriers are doing wrong; 2) what the carriers could be doing right (for their sake and everybody else’s); and 3) the need to open the market to more and better offerings at the local level.
Seems to me the net neutrality discussion is motivating attention to those topics; witness Doc’s own post. After all, if we had real competition instead of a first mile duopoly, we probably wouldn’t need net neutrality rules.