Chasing Rabbits (& Other Insights into the Net Regulation Debate)

January 9, 2009 at 6:06am

LAS VEGAS, NV—Back@CES. This time for the panel discussion “The Internet: How Do We Keep the Road Open.” Heavyweights on hand from both sides of the Internet regulation debate: Free Press’ Ben Scott, Google’s Rick Whitt, Amazon’s Paul Misener, NetCompetition’s Scott Cleland and AT&T’s Brent Olson.

Ding. Ding.

…Actually, those expecting the kind of epic 12-round bout Vegas (and this issue) are famous for, went away disappointed. If anything, the conversation concluded with faint echoes of Kumbaya.

AT&T’s Brent Olson kicked things off on an optimistic note. Having just walked the CES show floor, he noted that virtually all of the products were connected. Rather than talking in terms of bandwidth shortage, the broadband debate needs to be more focused on enabling the next wave of innovative applications.

Consumer Internet usage is diversifying, he added, with bandwidth-intensive early adopters at one end of the spectrum and folks like his mom, who uses the Internet primarily to connect with family, at the other. The issue is ensuring the network can evolve with these diverse and ever more sophisticated uses.

Amazon, Google and Free Press agree that the ability to manage networks is important and that the notion of paying for what you use is fair.

Biggest laugh comes when moderator Rob Pegoraro, of The Washington Post, comments that if this panel is in agreement, then he isn’t doing his job.

NetCompetition’s Cleland notes that the U.S. has more facilities-based competition than any other country and is the only nation with competing national wired infrastructures for broadband (cable and telecom).

Transparency emerges as another big area of agreement. While serious differences persist, Cleland said “the big untold story is that there is a lot of consensus emerging,” citing the Call to Action as meaningful progress.

“Job number one is to get the economy going and creating jobs,” Cleland adds. “People are coming together—unifying for the good of the nation, growing the economy, creating jobs, promoting broadband investment as quickly as possible.”

Cleland cited an Indian proverb: “He who chases two rabbits, catches none.” One rabbit, he explains, is universal broadband. The other is net neutrality. “With universal broadband, we can create jobs, grow the economy and promote broadband investment.” Net regulation, he argues, is “the single largest disincentive to broadband investment.”

The debate is far from over, but as the issue (and conversation) matures, key areas of consensus are emerging. If this were fight night in Vegas, we’d want our money back. But since it’s a constructive conversation about the connected future, we may all walk away winners.