Even Tim Wu, who coined the term, seems to be looking beyond net neutrality. Earlier this year, he reported to work for the federal government — but not at the FCC, where his ideas are thought to be widely influential, but at the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees — among other things — anti-trust cases. This year Wu gave a lecture at SXSW in which he unpacked the links between net neutrality and the 500-year-old legal doctrine of common carriage — an idea carried down from medieval English blacksmithery to interstate commerce to information superhighway.
But he downplayed the eventual outcome. "The net neutrality debate is very alive politically right now, but I think some of the power in the Internet world in general has moved to the platforms," he said. "If you're really interested in law, you have to see who wins — or what's happening while the stuff goes on. That's the power game. What is the default? At least on the wired-line side, I think the default favors an open Internet. I think that's good, because people are used to it, and it gets more and more ingrained that I get the whole Internet. It becomes harder and harder to knock pieces out of it."
Although he wouldn't quite say it, the presence of Wu at the FTC may signal that — no matter what the outcome of the FCC's dalliance with net neutrality — the best hope for controlling the future of the Internet is in using the courts to pressure the platforms and carriers on anti-trust grounds. "The question is whether the Internet has become the input into the rest of the economy and the rest of social life—an essential thing as opposed to an optional thing," Wu said. "And I think the argument is pretty strong that it's moved in that direction . . . . The economics of it are such that the value of the thing — of the services on the Internet — [have] become much more valuable than the money made by supplying the connection." ^
Carly Carioli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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