June 08, 2006
Congress to Make Search Engine Bias Illegal?
By Eric Goldman
Like we couldn't see this coming. To make the point that the content providers are playing with fire, one member of Congress has proposed to sweep them into the Net Neutrality legislation (see the text). Ha ha.
I must say, I really don't understand why companies like eBay and Google have forced the Net Neutrality issue. I understand that in theory price discrimination could work to their disadvantage, but there are so many reasons not to get Congress involved now:
* the IAP's price discrimination is purely hypothetical today. No one is doing it today, and it's not clear that price discrimination by IAPs is either technologically sensible or sellable in the market.
* Congressional regulation of hypothetical technological issues never works out well (Congress isn't so hot with real live issues either). This issue, in particular, is nuanced, and nuanced policy-making is never Congress' strength.
* This issue has become partisan, with the party in control on the "wrong" side to the content providers' positions. And there are powerful economic forces opposing the content providers. (UPDATE: BusinessWeek explains the paralyzing lobbying power of the telcos).
* as we've seen, this issue could backfire if Congress starts asking questions about the discriminatory choices made by content providers. Google is especially walking a thin line given how many questions have been raised about its "discriminatory" ranking practices (see here and here and here and here).
Maybe it's too late after all their drum-beating, but my advice to Google, eBay and all the other content providers pushing the Net Neutrality issue:
LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE
But....Here's the thing I don't get. Just because the telecos are not currently charging Google extra, doesn't mean that they won't. I don't trust the telecom industry any farther than I can spit a rat. They have been proven to be untrustworthy time and time again.
On top of that, the "nobody's doing it today" arguement doesn't hold water from a political sense. They are not going to force the issue when its hot with Congress.
And the arguement that Congress doesn't do a good job with seemingly anything...well Congress, however you think about it, is the only tools we have to work with.
Do you really think that the telecos are going to hesitate to charge like this:
1. Google internet connection lines.
2. Customer broadband connection lines.
3. Special fee to Google because "they use the network" even though the telcos are providing them with the connectivity in the first place.
4. Special fee to the customer for "premium connectivity" to Google. Guarenteed bandwith!
This is the Pot of Gold for telecos that are watching their land-line incomes wither away.
While I find many of your comments insightful, I just don't get your position on net neutrality.
Posted by: Gedvondur at June 9, 2006 07:52 AM
Thanks for the comment. I see the logic in your arguments, but my point was perhaps more limited. If the telcos start getting greedy, I'm confident that Congress can be whipped into a frenzy then. Until then, it's a little hard to deal with the nuances of all the possible hypotheticals. Eric.
Posted by: Eric Goldman at July 31, 2006 09:36 PM