Commentary by Steve Effros SHADOW BOXING Within the first three sentences of the "debate," broadband service providers were characterized as vile liars trying to take over the Internet for their own greedy benefit. And that was only the start. I was participating Monday in a stylized "debate" on network neutrality at a conference in New York called the Personal Democracy Forum. It was attended primarily by folks using the Internet for political organizing, so it was no surprise that the crowd was not neutral about net neutrality. What was surprising, however, was how much misinformation spewed forth. To his credit, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) did a yeoman’s job moderating, and ultimately asked the right questions. The net neutrality folks, however, were having none of the idea of talking about issues. Ad hominem attacks were the order of the day. "Liars!" came the charge from the audience with a back-up of some quotes from telephone CEOs about wanting to charge for enhanced services on their systems. But what were we "lying" about? Well, we (there was a representative of the Hands Off the Internet coalition with me; he basically represented the telcos while I explained the cable position) said our companies had no intention, plan or scheme to block or intentionally degrade access to any legal Website. No lie. One issue relates to the ISP service we offer of connecting residential customers to the Web (no blocking is the norm) and the other has to do with new, enhanced services and whether they should be charged to all end-users or whether a new business model makes more sense of charging the enhanced needs for new "edge" businesses to those "edge" business promoters. Of course, we don’t know what those enhanced services might look like yet, or if any will really come to fruition, but the "net neutrality" crowd is demanding they be banned before we even can define what they are. Rep Weiner noted that problem and also had great concern, as I did, about the unintended consequences of legislation designed around rampant emotion, which was certainly on display. He did, ultimately, ask the key question: what should Congress do, or not do, to help speed broadband services to constituents around the country. We didn’t have time to intelligently discuss that issue, but a brief look at history should answer it: the "structural separation" of broadband suppliers from providing other services, or tiers of service would eliminate any incentive to build out the broadband system. The profits from services would only accrue at the "edge," not be shared by the infrastructure builders. Ultimately that would slow, not speed broadband progress in the United States. Just look at the years of AT&T telephone "structural separation" and what it took to get the new services that the "upstart" cable industry finally supplied, like cable modems. Do we really want to go back to the "common carrier" model that was so loudly championed? I don’t think so. Make no mistake. The "debaters" on the other side were not simply looking for an assurance that they would be free to go anywhere they wanted with their Web connections. They demanded "structural separation." And that’s another reason the Congressman was concerned. He could clearly see that we don’t even have a definition of "net neutrality" let alone an understanding of what it might unintentionally do. Shadow boxing with the "net neutrality" folks is fun, but making sure members of Congress understand the complexities is more important. Despite the vitriol, I think that happened on Monday, and we have to keep doing it.

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