Amazon.com, the online retailing powerhouse, last week announced a shift in stance on net neutrality that has tech policy observers in the nation’s capital buzzing.
The company, a long-time backer of the controversial policy and member of the pro-net neutrality Open Internet Coalition, signaled in an op-ed by its Vice President for Global Public Policy, Paul Misener, openness to a compromise measure, which would allow what are known as “managed services” to be offered by Internet Service (ISPs) subject to certain conditions.
Specifically, Misener argues that “Internet content providers (and consumers) should be able to purchase ‘quality of service’ or ‘managed services’ from network operators on the same basis–equal availability and no harm to other content.”
Previously, net neutrality proponents had been unwilling to sanction the marketing of such services, irrespective of equal availability or non-prejudicial impact—a position still held by many on the “pro” side of the debate.
The shift was therefore dubbed a “major departure” by one expert tracking the net neutrality debate with whom Capitol Confidential spoke, and one that could have significant ramifications for the way the net neutrality battle plays out moving forward.
“If the pro-net neutrality side is willing to compromise, then that either indicates a recognition that their prior policy stance was untenable, or unjustified, or both,” he said in an interview.
However, another expert notes, “Amazon does not appear to be arguing in favor of no further regulation, just a little less regulation. Given the amount of opposition that exists to net neutrality and regulation, generally,and the difficulty that has been involved in its pursuit, cautious optimism, as opposed to enthusiastic embrace, is likely to be the main response on the free-market side. Compromise is preferable to the hardliner approach, to be sure, but this is primarily a big deal in terms of what it signifies—which should have groups like Free Press worried.”