A Roadmap To Resolution

The Internet is overdue for an upgrade. We are stuck on version 2.0 when version 4.0 is necessary to take full advantage of the immersive experience and productivity potential of the tools being developed today by the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Unfortunately, our ability to accelerate forward has long been stymied by process and politics. Hopefully, the strong and balanced approach offered today by Chairman Genachowski creates an opportunity for the public and private sector to move forward toward other more important shared telecom priorities.

Over the years, net neutrality has hardened into the policy and moral equivalent of the Mason-Dixon Line for policy and tech wonks. On one side of the line, net neutrality is a euphemism for unnecessary and restrictive regulation that would sharply discourage the private investment that has led to unparalleled broadband growth and innovation of the past 10 years. On the other side of the line, net neutrality is the essential ingredient for preserving the open nature of the Internet, freedom of expression, and unrestrained innovation.

Neither side seems willing to recognize their shared interest in the future of the Internet. As a result, the issue has become so toxic that some now claim that net neutrality was the reason all 95 candidates in the mid-term elections who signed a pledge to support the idea in Congress lost their elections.

Lost in the sophistry and the polemics is a focus on a rational roadmap forward. The Internet is a modern marvel. In a relatively short time, innovative ideas and massive investments in technology have resulted in the Internet's rapid evolution from an academic research project into an open and ubiquitous platform whose existence invigorates our democratic values and supports an ever-expanding range of commercial activity. Rather than fight over preserving it like a dinosaur, let's focus instead on figuring out how to accelerate its transformative potential.

The time I have invested in this issue suggests that there is a resolution to be had if all sides are willing to give a little to get a lot. It is possible to build on the best elements of the Internet and to strike a balance that will promote innovation, investment, competition and free expression while all the while protecting and empowering consumers and bridging digital divides.

To achieve these goals we must embrace the tradition of an open Internet that enables innovation without permission. Specifically, a reasonable roadmap to resolution would assure clear and meaningful transparency, as well as advance consumer protections on wireline and mobile systems by (a) requiring clear no blocking rules, (b) preclude harmful discrimination and (c) provide clear and meaningful disclosures of price, performance, and network management practices.

In addition to advancing principles that will preserve a rich and robust Internet, a rational resolution would seek to drive continued investment, innovation, and consumer choice by ensuring that new specialized services like telemedicine and the smart grid are given a chance to develop, but without crowding out the robustness of the Internet. It would also allow some prioritization of traffic on the Internet as long as such prioritization is consumer driven. The Chairman's approach appears to strike this balance appropriately, and, importantly leaves room for a contextual evaluation of future challenges.

While Chairman Genachowski deserves credit for building on the work of republicans and democrats alike, including former Chairmen Powell and Martin and Congressman Waxman, it is important to keep in mind that no set of principles will be a panacea. Net neutrality is a complex issue that has confounded many who tried to solve it. We should move forward with humility and without pretensions of achieving the perfect. What is important is that we continue to work to find the right, yet imperfect, balance that will move us beyond fractious fights and towards a future Internet that is at least as transformative as today's.