Has Net Neutrality's Moment Passed? And What Might Replace it

Here’s veteran telecom policy analyst Cynthia Brumfield’s take:

One of the hottest topics in the Internet arena last year, net neutrality, is now just about one of the most boring ideas.

I attended the same Net Neutrality session as Cynthia at the VON conference yesterday. And to be truthful, I was surprised at the lack of energy and relatively light attendance, given the setting and the speakers. It may be that the grassroots energy behind Net Neutrality last year has dissipated.

Then again, the other surprising aspect of the panel was how much the debate may be changing. A good chunk of the conversation concerned recent actions by Cingular, Qwest, and Verizon to refuse to terminate calls to certain Internet-based conference-calling services. These services are taking advantage of an arbitrage opportunity caused by inflated termination rates in rural Iowa. However, it’s unusual to say the least for phone companies to resort to “self-help” remedies, as opposed to going to the FCC and State regulatory commissions.

The other big issue on the panel was Skype’s recent petition (and a similar paper by Tim Wu) advocating “Carterphone” principles for wireless. The argument is that wireless carriers should not be permitting to prevent users from connecting any phone or any application to their network.

Neither of these new developments is about Net Neutrality, strictly speaking. However, they tie into a broader debate about potential limits on network operators. Not to beat a dead horse, but I see interconnection, rather than non-discrimination, as the key issue here. That’s particularly relevant in the Iowa situation, where the incumbent carriers are essentially asserting their right to refuse interconnection. That would be a very dangerous precedent to set.