Net Neutrality Advocates Face Off

WASHINGTON—What was billed as the great net neutrality debate of the season started off with the participants in complete agreement. Fortunately for the audience, it didn’t stay that way. Yet by the time the debate was over, the most startling fact was how close the two sides were in their positions.

The debaters were Vinton Cerf, called by many the “Father of the Internet.” Cerf, now chief internet evangelist for Google, is credited with inventing the TCP/IP protocol that makes the Internet work.

On the other side was Professor David Farber, frequently called the “Grandfather of the Internet.” Farber’s students went on to invent most of the critical aspects of the Internet today.

The initial statements at the debate—which was sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank—bemoaned what both sides call a “Bumper Sticker War.”

Both debaters agreed that the nearly constant stream of television and newspaper ads surrounding this issue really work to reduce understanding in the issues and do a lot to reduce the debate on net neutrality to a series of slogans.

Cerf said that the primary reason that he, and Google, are concerned about the net neutrality issue is because of a series of threats made by AT&T CEO Ed Whittaker to refuse carriage of traffic bound for sites such as Google if the company didn’t pay for the privilege.

Cerf said that if people had a wide choice of Internet providers, this wouldn’t matter. But he said that the fact is, most people have a choice of only one or two broadband providers.

“Most people have a choice of DSL or cable, but not both,” Cerf said. He noted that things had changed greatly since the days of dial-up access when users could access the Internet using many different ISPs.

“At best it’s a duopoly,” he said.

Cerf did admit that other avenues to prevent abuse by broadband providers do exist. “The Federal Trade Commission, the FCC and the Department of Justice all have jurisdiction in this,” Cerf said.

“If a broadband supplier abused their control by limiting choice, consumers could file complaints,” he said.

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