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January 13, 2009

Net Neutrality and the Economy

Brian Belardi
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As part of his economic stimulus package, President-elect Barack Obama will reportedly propose a significant expansion of the country’s broadband Internet networks. For the program to launch successfully, however, it must address the issue of network neutrality, Professor Eli Noam said in a recent interview with Fortune Magazine.

Proponents of net neutrality argue that broadband Internet consumers should be free of any content monitoring or restrictions. Network providers, such as Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner, however, say that without the ability to control the data traveling over their networks, they are reluctant to expand their services.

Noam, professor of finance and economics and director of the Columbia Institute of Tele-Information, said that the stimulus package should be designed with the issue of net neutrality in mind:

[Noam] thinks the telecom companies, content providers and lawmakers need to acknowledge the net-neutrality issue in formulating any broadband stimulus package — thus far, few have mentioned it — and essentially forge a pact: “The telecom companies want their incentives, the Internet companies want openness, and citizens need stimulus,” he says.

“If the government makes the stimulus strong enough for the infrastructure providers but makes it conditional on policies of openness, you can, in a way, have the government underwrite the openness.”

Photo credit: von Kinder