THE BLOG
12/02/2010 05:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Net Neutrality Is All About the Money

America seems obsessed with "Net Neutrality", the idea that the web should be free of all restrictions... "on content, sites, platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and ... 'on the modes of communication", has dominated discussion in Washington DC, the Congress the FCC and all our media.

But really it's all about the money.

The Chairman of the FCC said today that providers can set a sort of metered rate, where big users pay for what thy eat. That in essence, is what it is about. The providers do not want to keep building fancy new Internet infrastructures unless users pay. And users -- small and large -- do not want the rates to go up.

Fair enough. But everyone has been told the providers really want unlimited control. They will censor, etc. etc. That is the PR the big guys have been selling.

There is a lot of money exchanging hands in the process in the Congress, and the Senate wants its share too. Senator Al Franken maybe really believes all that when he said recently that "net neutrality, is the First amendment issue of our time."

Google, a user, and Verizon, an Internet provider, reached an agreement, in principle, a few weeks ago. Google clearly wanted a wide open market for a wireless Internet, and was open to paying a premium for higher speeds on wired infrastructures. Verizon, like all ISPs was looking for incentives to continue to build out their Internet infrastructure.

Mostly they want the government to get moving.

But the agreement between Google and Verizon is only the beginning. The FCC action expected next week is only the beginning.

Congress and the FCC have yet to hash out their version of a compromise. Sooner or later, as Commissioner Copps has indicated, the FCC has to declare all such distribution services as "telecommunications" so as to assure fairness, and to assert jurisdiction as a regulator.

While the issue of regulation of the web and the end of the so-called "open Internet", has become a matter of national import, we should settle this latest issue quickly and make our view of the future of the Net something we can not only be proud of but also argue in favor of in foreign markets.

Hillary Clinton, wisely, has made development and operation of the Internet a matter of foreign policy. And as Secretary of State she can make the arguments clearly and convincingly but only if they make sense.

Other countries do not share our "free enterprise" model and have no qualms about regulation.

While the idea of different rates for different speeds is on the minds of lawmakers in Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, and elsewhere in the world, they do not share our first amendment rhetoric.

Forget about the free unfettered net.

Countries like Italy have already moved to hold Google and its executives personally liable for text, photographs or videos made available on YouTube, thus posing a significant challenge to the company's business model, along with those of other Internet companies like Facebook and Twitter.

And in South Korea last year, Google blocked users of the local version of its YouTube video service from uploading material after the government imposed rules requiring contributors to register with their real names. Why? Because South Korea has made such regulation a matter of first importance.

France enacted a law allowing Internet connections to be cut off if a user is pirating copyrighted material. Germany has rejected that approach, but Britain is watching the outcomes of the law with interest.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is already talking about even tougher measures against file sharing, calling for tests of technology that filters unlicensed music and movies from the Internet.

And Australian Internet service providers suggest that they could soon have the most restrictive Internet regime in the Western world because of proposals pending in their legislature.

China as we know has already forced Google to move its operations to Hong Kong and China's Communist leaders have long tried to balance their desire for a thriving Internet and the economic growth it promotes with their demands for political control.

There are over 3,000 Internet police in China regulating what is accessible, restricting access to web sites they deem politically incorrect, or contrary to public order.

This, too, is only the beginning of regulation of the net.