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Wireless Network Neutrality by Tim Wu

Tim Wu has another paper on network neutrality, but this one aims at the wireless industry. The paper is getting plenty of attention in DC. Tim presented it recently at an FTC hearing on broadband competition policy, and it was discussed briefly in a Washinton Post article. The paper is interesting, important, and provocative.

Tim examines various wireless carrier practices (control over network attachments, equipment design and product features, discrimination w/r/t application and services, and stalling entry of application developers). Based on his examination, he makes a few recommendations (e.g., Carterfone for the wireless world, basic net neutrality principles, better disclosure of carrier practices, and standardization of application platforms) and raises a number of interesting questions (e.g., why would carriers “cripple products”?). Although many will see the paper as a call for regulation, Tim emphasizes at the outset that:

One point should be clear. This paper is written to examine what carrier practices may be harmful for consumers or society. It is intended to shed light on practices that might, for one thing, be dissipated by consumer pressure and competition, and to raise questions for the carriers themselves. It is absolutely not a call for comprehensive regulation or nationalization of the wireless industry. The perspective is that regulation, if necessary, should be a last resort.

Perhaps the prospect or threat of regulation will get carriers to think about their practices more carefully. Despite the “conventional wisdom”, it is not clear that competition among existing carriers (or the prospect of entry) will do so.