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"The Coming War over Net Neutrality"

On May 3, 2013, The New Yorker published a short article by Tim Wu called "The Coming War over Net Neutrality," available at

The article argues that cable operators ought to support the FCC's so-called "net neutrality" rules, issued in 2010's In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet Broadband Indus. Practices, 25 F.C.C.R. 17905, in order to preserve the Internet's "zero-prices rule." Under the zero-prices rule, a consumer's price for joining a network is zero; the price that users and websites pay to reach each other is zero; and the price that big websites charge ISPs to carry their content is also zero.

Wu points out that back in the early 2000s, when net neutrality replaced "open access" for cable modem service as a hot topic, cable operators opposed the idea because they saw the possibility of charging Internet companies like Yahoo for the right to reach cable subscribers over high-bandwidth data connections. But now, according to Wu, "[t]imes have changed, and firms like Google and Facebook now hold serious bargaining power" – no cable ISP can expect to survive if the subscriber is not permitted access to Google and Facebook. Thus, there is a real possibility that, absent enforceable net neutrality rules, cable operators could be forced to pay programming fees to Google, just as cable operators are forced to pay exorbitant license fees to Disney for the right to carry ESPN, and these costs would be passed on to cable modem subscribers. Instead of broadband's end-to-end content sharing model replacing cable television's one-to-many broadcast model, we would end up with the reverse – the Internet as another modality of cable television, the entire field governed by archaic intellectual property law.

Reacting to Aereo TV's recent court victory over broadcast networks (ruling that Aereo's distribution of over-the-air television signals from user antennas through the Internet to user viewing devices does not infringe broadcaster's copyrights), News Corp's Chase Carey announced that Fox would consider transforming its free broadcast programming into subscription-based cable programming. See

Carey's threat indirectly demonstrates the validity of Tim Wu's worry: What is to stop a content owner like News Corp from charging a fee to Internet Service Providers for the right to carry Fox video programming content over an Internet connection, which fee would then be passed on to end-users in the form of higher Internet service rates? More specifically, do the FCC's net neutrality rules – at least in their current form, which are intended to constrain content distributors rather than content owners – effectively deal with the nightmare possibility that Wu imagines? 


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