File it under "Dull but Worthy": The increasingly important but distressingly unentertaining story of the day was whether the Net needs to be checked in order to flourish. As industry and government squared off over the issue, proposing various levels of government intervention or industry self-regulation, the media made sporadic attempts to cover the story, ever in the hope that a really interesting news peg would emerge on which to hang the whole regulatory rag.
In one game attempt, Wired's Chris Oakes covered the "Creating a Framework for Global Electronic Commerce" panel session at the annual Progress & Freedom Foundation conference in Aspen, Colo. Chairing the panel was Ira Magaziner, the departed White House staffer who set the tone for the Clinton administration's hands-off approach to Net regulation. If Oakes went in expecting to find a clear vote - Yes, regulation! or No, we'll do it ourselves! - well, he didn't get it. Rather he had the EU's Gerard deGraaf arguing that each situation deserves its own solution, to which Silicon Valley power player Rebecca Katz scintillatingly agreed: "I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer to this question."
Also trying to breathe life into the story was today's New York Times, with a Jeri Clausing piece on the appointment of a new White House under-czar to coordinate the government vs. industry regulation muddle. Elizabeth B. Echols, the new senior adviser on electronic-commerce issues, will take a staff role on the task force that Ira Magaziner created, and enter the regulation fray with the unhappy prospect of bringing a dozen federal agencies into agreement on one prevailing policy. "There are at least 12 federal agencies that are working in electronic commerce," Echols told the Times. "The idea is to have one central place at the White House where we can work together and shape one administration policy." To which we say ... good luck.
And weighing in on the most pressing of the regulatory battles currently under way - the open-access question - Bill Frezza wrote a laser-like analysis for Internet Week on the open-access question. The piece's headline called the question a Gordian knot. Wrong classical metaphor. It's a Pyrrhic battle, with too great a cost no matter the outcome. Frezza spelled out, one by one, the horrid consequences of each possible windup. His gloomy conclusion: Politicians will end up lying to the cable companies, promising them time to reap profits after they invest massively to upgrade their infrastructures. And once this has been accomplished, the politicos will change the rules and hand out the spoils. Sounds like a story.
Who Will Regulate the Net?
New E-Commerce Adviser
New York Times
Cable Open Access: The Internet's Gordian Knot