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: