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Future of Video Lies in Open Networks

The annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy starts today, and I’m participating. The basic mission is to take note of huge changes in the way video will move around the world in coming years, and then consider how to create “a regulatory regime appropriate to the new world of video.”

Needless to say, one of the major topics will be what folks are calling “network neutrality,” which has become something of a hot-button issue in policy circles. Judging from the composition of the people attending this conference — folks from government, industry, academia and nonprofits considering such matters — the debate should be at least lively.

I continue to believe that it would be dangerous to innovation, and disastrous for citizen media, if we allow the cable and phone duopoly to have their regulatory way: They essentially want control over the speed and timing of what moves on what they call “their” lines (even though they got to be incumbents in the first place because of government-granted monopolies we gave them).

You can’t blame them for trying. After all, highly regulated industries tend to be most innovative in twisting legislative arms. And as the cable and phone incumbents smell a way to protect old business models while owning — or at least carving off a slice of — the ones that are coming, they are twisting mightily.

Pure neutrality is impossible, and we don’t have it now. The tech folks have built lots of performance tweaks into the networks that together comprise the Internet, and there always will need to do that. The network neutrality proposals now before Congress are flawed in their own way, because they don’t take some of this into account, but in their absence we could have much worse.

I hope to mention the fascinating conversation we had recently at the Berkman Center with Tom Evslin, who’s calling for a distributed application that will help determine whether the incumbents are gaming the networks for their own gain. (Listen to the MP3 audio here.)

I’ll post reports from the conference as time permits.

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