Federal umpire blows a call

The Wall St. Journal joins the chorus of Bronx cheers aimed at Kevin Martin, the one-eyed federal umpire who blew a call that wasn’t even close:

Those who would use Comcast’s actions to argue for more Internet regulation have misidentified the Big Brother problem. It’s not the private sector they should be worried about. There’s no evidence that Comcast was trying to suppress a political view or favor one of its own services. By all appearances, the company’s policies were motivated by nothing more than making sure a tiny percentage of bandwidth hogs didn’t slow down Internet traffic for everyone else on the network.

Giving the government more say in network management, by contrast, introduces all kinds of potential for political mischief. Net neutrality is a slippery slope toward interventions of all kinds — not merely over access but ultimately over content. Naturally, the most powerful lobbies will have the largest sway. Mr. Martin’s decision in this case may well be driven by his own political hostility to Comcast and the cable industry for resisting some of his other policy priorities.

Mr. Martin’s bad instincts notwithstanding, the FCC’s job is not to determine business models in the private sector. The community of Internet service and content providers has proven itself more than able to work out problems on its own as Web use has exploded. If there are bottlenecks in the future, some providers might choose to block file-sharing services at certain hours of the day. Others might opt for some kind of metered or tiered pricing. Banning these options will only reduce incentives to upgrade networks and launch new services.

Regulators would do better to focus on keeping the overall telecom marketplace competitive. If Comcast customers don’t like the company’s network management policies, they’re free to take their business to Verizon, or AT&T, or some other Internet service provider. A World Wide Web run by Kevin Martin and his political friends will leave us with poorer quality and fewer options all around.

Internet users are several times more likely to suffer from slowed or degraded service on account of their neighbors than their ISPs, so Comcast’s actions have been reasonable. And as many others have noted, the regulatory role is to resolve impasses in the technical collaboration process, not to substitute political insight for engineering knowledge.

Martin blew this one, there’s no doubt about it. We need instant replay in politics.

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2 thoughts on “Federal umpire blows a call”

  1. Was it really a call that he blew? Or was it the telephone companies? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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