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Communications regulators over the next decade will spend increasing time on conflicts between the private interests of broadband providers and the public's interest in a competitive innovation environment centered on the Internet. As the policy questions this conflict raises are basic to communications policy, they are likely to reappear in many different forms. So far, the first major appearance has come in the "open access" (or "multiple access") debate, over the desirability of allowing vertical integration between Internet Service Providers and cable operators. Proponents of open access see it as a structural remedy to guard against an erosion of the "neutrality'' of the network as between competing content and applications. Critics, meanwhile, have taken open-access regulation as unnecessary and likely to slow the pace of broadband deployment.

This paper takes a more general perspective. The questions raised in discussions of open access and network neutrality are basic to both telecommunications and innovation policy. The promotion of network neutrality is no different than the challenge of promoting fair evolutionary competition in any privately owned environment, whether a telephone network, operating system, or even a retail store. Government regulation in such contexts invariably tries to help ensure that the short-term interests of the owner do not prevent the best products or applications becoming available to end-users. The same interest animates the promotion of network neutrality: preserving a Darwinian competition among every conceivable use of the Internet so that the only the best survive.


Communications Law | Intellectual Property Law | Internet Law | Law