A couple days ago I had the privilege and pleasure to testify before the House Sub-committee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, which is part of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the House of Representatives.
Broadly speaking, the topic was net neutrality. That is what the newspapers said.
Frankly, I hesitated to testify. I am always happy to talk with any government analyst who calls, irrespective of party affiliation. Congressional testimony is different, however, especially in this topic, which tends to yield more heat than light. Moreover, I am neither advocate nor opponent for net neutrality — at least as that phrase commonly gets used in US political debate. Why should I be a neutral voice in someone else’s political fight?
Ah, but I could not say no. Even with reservations, there still exists a professional obligation to show up. It is the right thing to do. Also, and I will admit to this, I was excited.
One other thing made it easy. The hearing did not concern the entire net neutrality debate. It concerned a rather specific question, something called House Resolution 37, which disapproves of the Open Internet Access Order issued by the FCC last December. If passed, the entire order would not take effect — not its provisions for transparency, blocking and discriminatory traffic.
I had testified at the FCC hearings leading up to to the order, and had testified in favor of transparency provisions, for example. That made it easy. Such a blanket resolution — getting rid of everything — looked like throwing out the baby with the bath water. To me this resolution did not make sense.
One other broad motive shaped my views. I believe there actually is a big economic question on the table, and it gets lost in the popular debate. I hoped to bring attention to that. In a nutshell, if there is anything a government might be able to do, it might be able to foster economic growth by nurturing entrepreneurship on the Internet.
Those expectations were naive (of course), but we will get to that below. Anyway, that is why I agreed to come.
This post will share what I learned about how the existing political debate filters this topic. Below is a copy of my oral testimony, and a link to my written testimony. After that comes many observations about what sort of questions arose at the hearing. I hope others find this insightful and useful.