The 1970s saw two revolutions that wouldtransform the American economyfor decadestocome.OnewastheearlydevelopmentoftheInternet.Theotherwasawaveofderegulationthat freed the nation’s transportation andcommunications infrastructure from micro-managementbyfederalbureaucracies.Each of those revolutions was tied to anintellectual tradition that has profoundly shaped the modern world. In the 1980s, theInternet was one network among many, andmost of its competitors were built on propri-etary standards. Partisans for the Internettended to be partisans for open technologiesmoregenerally.AstheInternethasemergedasthe undisputed winner of the networkingwars,italsobecametheposterchildfor“open-ness,” the now-dominant ideology of Silicon Valley.Similarly, the deregulations of the 1970swerebroughtaboutbyaseachangeinscholar-ly attitudes toward government regulation.Publicpolicyscholarsintheearly20thcentury had imagined that neutral bureaucrats couldmanage the economy and society. That naïveoptimism gave way to a more sophisticatedand skeptical view of the regulatory process inthe decades after World War II. Economistsbegantosuggestthatregulatoryprocesseswere vulnerableto“governmentfailures”akintothemarket failures often cited to justify govern-mentregulations.Scholarsarticulatedtheoriesof “regulatory capture” in which regulatedindustries manipulated the regulatory processfortheirownbenefit.Andtheybegantorecog-nize the frequency with which regulatory schemes produce harmful, unintended conse-quences.In“TheBroadbandDebate:aUser’sGuide,”Columbia law professor Tim Wu dubbed thesetwo schools of thought the “openists” and the“deregulationists,” respectively.
The networkneutralitydebatehasputtheheirsofthesetradi-tionsonacollisioncourse.Eachcampviewstheother as a threat to the gains of the last quartercentury.OpenistsworrythattheremnantsoftheBell system will regain control over the nation’scommunications infrastructure and transformthe Internet into a proprietary network. Dereg-ulationists, on the other hand, worry thatWashington bureaucrats will gain control overtheInternet,returningthecountrytothebadolddayswhengovernmentbureaucrats,notmarketforces,determinedtheshapeofcommunicationsmarkets.Thesetwomovementshavecometoregardthemselves as implacable foes, but they havemoreincommonthantheyliketoadmit:they share the fundamental insight that too muchcentralization and bureaucracy is detrimentalto innovation. But each is convinced that theother’sagendawillbringabouttheseunfortu-natecircumstances.Eachcamphassometimesoverstated its case and failed to take the otherside’sconcernsseriously.Andeachcamphasa greatdealtolearnfromtheother.The openist camp includes Internet pio-neerslikeWorldWideWebinventorTimothy Berners-Lee,
who is intimately familiar withthe prerequisites for online innovation. Itwouldbeamistaketodismisstoolightlythiscamp’s concerns about the problems thatcould be created by network discrimination.The deregulationists include prominenteconomistssuchasAlfredKahn,whooversaw thederegulationoftheairlineindustryunderPresident Jimmy Carter. Kahn possesses a deepunderstandingoftheunintendedconse-quences of government regulation. Ignoringhis concerns about the unintended conse-quences of government regulation would beequallymisguided.
“Network neutrality” has been given many meanings,butthecoredisputeisoverwhethernetwork owners will alter the Internet’s end-to-end architecture. Openists fear this out-come while some deregulationists welcome it.Other deregulationists flatly deny that theend-to-end principle has ever been the normon the Internet. But in fact, the end-to-endprinciplehasbeenthecentralorganizingprin-cipleoftheInternetforaquartercentury.Andboth sides overestimate the power of the net-work owners. The natural inertia of theInternet’s architecture, together with the vigi-