The Nuclear Option for Network Neutrality: Eminent Domain

I’m reading stories all over the blogosphere and technology news about how the big network players are trying to leverage their control of the internet and do away with network neutrality.  Daniel Berninger asserts that this development will destroy the internet as we know itMany others are chiming in.

While I’m sure many are sensationalizing this, I’d like to put forward an option.

Throughout the history of this country, the government has had no qualms about using its power of eminent domain to build infrastructure that will serve the common good.  That’s why we are able to have highways, decent roads, schools, public buildings, and many other institutions fairly well spread out through the country.

The argument goes like this:  The internet is infrastructure that serves the public good.  It enables commerce, communication, government operations, pretty much anything that requires communication can leverage the internet to make services more accessible and interoperable.  If the actions of the owners of the network are beginning to threaten the public good, then the government has a responsibility to step in.  This is even more relevant because the government has subsidized many major improvements to the buildout of the internet.

Now I’m not sure that I’d want the government taking over the internet.  I could see it falling in the lap of the FCC, and I just can’t imagine that would serve the common good (No offense intended to the fine folks at the FCC).  But the recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain makes that a mute point.  We just need a couple of private development corporations to propose to some local or state governments that they could better serve the public good than the current owners of those assets.  The government, even at the local or state level could step in and condemn and transfer the assets to a new, more responsible steward.

Now, like other nuclear options, this one might server better as a threat than through actual implementation.  If a few heavyweight locals (NYC, LA, etc.) let the networks know this option was on the table, I’d be willing to bet that it would never have to be implemented.  The downside to this option being on the table is that it might discourage investment in new infrastructure, but I think that it would be better than letting the network degrade into a disjointed, fractured, and much less useful internet.

Update 6/19/2006: Mike at TechDirt links to a Weekly Standard article by Andy Kessler exploring this same idea.  Interesting additions to the discussion at both sites.