At yesterday's Brookings forum on "Internet Governance and Regulation: What Should Be Government's Role?" Comcast's David Cohen delivered a keynote calling for a greater reliance on the role of engineers and the importance of transparent and consensus-based processes for governing the Internet. He noted that long-standing engineering fora such as the Internet Engineering Task Force have provided global Internet governance with great success (and a post by our friend Bill Check suggests just how huge a role the IETF plays). Using the IETF as a model, David said, the newly-formed BITAG can provide a similar consensus-based, engineering-driven forum for dealing with many issues arising in the Internet ecosystem here in the U.S.
Following David's talk, he joined an interesting panel with Darrell West (who runs the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings), Erik Garr (who played a leading role in assembling the FCC's National Broadband Plan, and Gary Epstein (long active in communications policy in the private and public sectors, and now general counsel of the International Digital Economy Accords (IDEA) Project at the Aspen Institute.
The panelists concurred that while there is a role for government in ensuring a well-functioning and open Internet, the regulatory process is just not equipped to handle the types of engineering issues that must be addressed at Internet speed. Alternative institutions are likely to be more efficient in handling these, they commented, and consumers themselves (thanks in particular to the power the Internet gives them) have shown the ability to demand changes in company policies that don't meet their expectations.
In a round of Q&A with the audience, the panelists concluded that it's time to press ahead on the issue that has preoccupied Washington's attention for too long: net neutrality. Panelists observed that, between the efforts of FCC Chairman Genachowski and House Commerce Committee Chairman Waxman, consensus seems to have been reached on probably 90 percent of the issues surrounding net neutrality. All urged against "perfecting" new rules -- as Gary Epstein put it, "the Commission should declare victory somehow, and not get hung up on Title II or a 'third way' or 'fourth way' or 'fifth way,' and even if it's not tidy, I'd leave it a bit messy..." All of the panelists agreed on how the FCC's energy should be refocused: on implementing the National Broadband Plan.
We can't afford to lose any more time. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, issued a study last week reaffirming that millions of Americans within reach of broadband networks still are not choosing to join the Internet revolution. As a couple of panelists said, with consensus on so many key points of the net neutrality debate, it's "time to check the box" and move on.