Monday, April 2, 2018

If the Internet is Changing, Backward-Looking Regulation Maybe Not So Smart

It is a truism that regulators never can keep up with technology, which is a reasonable argument for caution where it comes to regulating just about anything central to the  internet, which keeps changing.

The logical implication might be that the historic light-touch treatment of anything related to computing likely should be the presumption, even if consumer protection or antitrust remedies might from time to time be deemed necessary.

The reason for such caution is that computing and the internet itself continue to change. And if there is anything history shows, it is that the leaders in any single era rarely--if ever--are the leaders in the succeeding era. So “punishing” a leader in one era, when an era is about to evolve, does not make too much long-term sense.

We might today believe it is nonsensical to consider the web browser a source of competitive advantage, as though the browser provides some sort of business moat. Nevertheless, not so long ago, the browser was considered a source of anti-competitive advantage.

Not so long ago, ability to offer phone services using Class 5 switches was considered to be a major pro-competitive step. Before that, long distance voice was the profit driver for the telecom industry. Things change, and change quite a lot.

Leadership in the mainframe computing era was not the same as leadership in the mini-computer or personal computing eras. And none of those leaders were key in the early internet age.

Someday, Google, Facebook and others might not be the leaders in some future evolution of the internet ecosystem. The point is that regulation is sometimes pointless when it is backward looking.

The internet has grown through multiple eras, any observer can note. Where the internet was a low-bandwidth method for researchers to communicate, it then became a consumer transaction and information platform, before becoming a social media vehicle, and now a content delivery mechanism. Next, the internet is on the cusp of possibly becoming a major platform for enterprise private networks.

With the coming internet of things evolution, autonomous vehicles and sensor networks of many types could represent the next big wave of development for the internet, as the internet has defined the most-recent eras of computing.

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