A lot has been written about the issue of Net Neutrality, but on the eve of the FCC's Chairman speech about the subject, and given Boxee's position as a stakeholder in this debate I thought it would be worthwhile to share our view.
Broadband networks (wired & wireless) are on their way to becoming a new type of commodity (like water, electricity, sewage). They also represent an opportunity for a world where geographical, economical, and racial barriers matter less.
The principle behind Net Neutrality is that broadband providers should not put any restrictions on the data they deliver (not on content being delivered, not what site is being accessed, not what device is being connected, etc.). All bits are made equal and should not be discriminated against.
I know that many of the people who read this blog are familiar with the subject, so I'll jump right into the debate (if you're interested in a more elaborate introduction to the subject see links below).
Opposing Net Neutrality is like:
... posting a sign on the entrance to the US Internet saying "take your business elsewhere": If starting an Internet business in the US means additional cost companies need to pay to broadband providers then entrepreneurs will start their businesses in countries that have neutral Internet policies. Europe?, Japan?, Canada?, China? they'll be happy to welcome the entrepreneurs that were turned off by the new US "tax" on running an Internet company.
... giving incumbents a free pass: The Internet is a great platform for disrupting industries. Part of the reason it is so powerful is because there is a level playing field. A segregated Internet with exclusive "expressways" only the rich can afford will mean that a start-up will not be able to effectively compete with an incumbent who has deep pockets.
... telling investors to put their money into a different field: The Internet is a great investment opportunity. It is cheap to start a business and dream of changing the world. If the cost of starting an Internet company artificially goes up there will be less innovation and less opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs.
... killing the Internet as we know it: An Internet where only devices approved by the broadband provider can connect to the network, where only protocols that are friendly to the broadband provider's business model will be allowed, where a site generating lots of traffic but little revenue for the broadband provider will run the risk of being put on a blacklist is not the Internet we know today. It will be a corporate, boring, stagnating, censored, complacent, crippled shadow of today's Internet.
There are potential risks to Net Neutrality. The most prominent are claims that once Net Neutrality is in effect the broadband providers will have no incentive to invest in their networks and will not be able to fight piracy. We believe that in a competitive market the motivation for investment will continue to exist and that the best way to fight piracy it to offer an easy to use and affordable legal alternative. It seems, however, the risk of inaction on Net Neutrality is greater.
Net Neutrality is crucial for the future of the Internet and the role of the US in a global economy. Besides making any data network (wired and wireless) neutral we should set an ambitious goal for a ubiquitous, affordable and fast broadband network in the US. It should be a national and strategic priority, and I hope the Obama administration and the FCC will take on the challenge and make it happen.