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美国政府正在亲手扼杀互联网创新

Christopher S. Yoo 2015年12月17日

面对创新,过去默认的答案是“可以”,新服务才得以雨后春笋般涌现,而不需要征求任何人的许可。但放任《开放互联网法令》以如今的形式存在下去,将破坏这种情况。

美国持续十余年的网络中立(network neutrality)之争,在本月早些时候达到了高潮。网络中立概念就是希望网络运营商对于网络服务商要一视同仁,不得采取因人而异的收费方式,防止运营商从商业利益出发控制传输数据的优先级,保证网络数据传输的“中立性”。

针对联邦通信委员会(FCC)于今年2月开始施行的《开放互联网法令》(the Open Internet Order),华盛顿特区的联邦上诉法院就听取了支持者与反对者的口头辩论。诚然,法官提出的问题对最终裁决几乎没有什么指导性,但网络中立的支持者和反对者都承认,FCC度过了艰难的一天。

法院重点关注了联邦通信委员会规定的三个方面。第一,法官对FCC监管固话网络内部流量(比如有线通或数字用户线路系统流量)的权力提出质疑。第二,他们对涉及无线网络内部的网络中立规则的合理性提出挑战。第三,他们仔细审查了互联互通领域的管理规定,即针对网络之间如何交换流量的规定。

法官似乎在第二和第三个问题,即移动网络和互联网络的问题上,对FCC提出了很大的质疑。其主要关注点集中在法令出台最后时刻的一些修改。法官明确问到,公众是否得到了恰当的通知,这些修改又是否被恰当地纳入了整个监管制度。FCC很好地应对了第一个问题,不过即便如此,在“为什么最后的方案与最初的提议相差甚远”这个问题上,他们也受到了严厉的质疑。

这些质疑对未来有什么预示意义?只要这三个问题没有搞清楚,监管政策就可能出现漏洞。正如某位法官所说,取消其中一部分规定,就可能导致奇怪的结果——人们让手机连接蜂窝网络时,必须遵守某些规定,让同样一部手机连接WiFi时,则必须遵守另外一些规定。当用户在同一建筑的不同地点使用手机时,常常会出现这种情况。

类似的,如果不能厘清流量进入网络的方式,那么网络流量的监管规定也起不到阻止差异化对待的效果。FCC唯有解决这些问题,才能达到其监管目的,但他们似乎并没有做到这一点。

在这些问题中,有许多都源于FCC将互联网纳入传统电话监管体制这一决定,这种决定多少有些令人惊愕,有悖于两党数十年来达成的共识。而美国生机勃勃的互联网产业就建立于这种共识之上,让世界上所有其他国家羡慕并纷纷效仿。

监管制度的改变,给造就了互联网公司,而且让其他国家艳羡不已的创新风潮带来了潜在风险。今年2月之前,由美国决策者制定的政策让创新者能够自由地试验新型产品和商业模式,除非那是有害的尝试。简而言之,面对创新,过去默认的答案是“可以”,新服务才得以雨后春笋般涌现,而不需要征求任何人的许可。

放任《开放互联网法令》以如今的形式存在下去,将破坏这种情况,默认的答案从“可以”变为“不准”。就如同主持口头辩论的法官所说,FCC抛弃了法院建议的继续传统监管的蓝图。国会考虑采用新法案已经很长时间了,并没有将互联网强行纳入适用于电话网络的旧有监管制度,但这样的举动似乎不符合现在的政治气候。与此同时,完全或部分推翻《开放互联网法令》的司法裁决,可能会是迈向过去成功管理方式的第一步。(财富中文网)

本文作者是宾夕法尼亚大学通信、计算机和信息科学专业约翰•H•切斯特纳特教席法学教授,他也是该校科技、创新和竞争中心的创会理事。

译者:严匡正

审校:任文科

The decade-long debate over network neutrality reached a moment of truth earlier this month when a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., heard oral arguments in the judicial challenge to the open Internet rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February. Admittedly, the questions that judges ask often provide little guidance as to what they will eventually decide. But both proponents and opponents of network neutrality agree that the FCC had a tough day.

The court focused attention on three aspects of the FCC’s order. First, the judges questioned the agency’s authority to regulate the handling of traffic within fixed-line networks, such as cable modem or DSL systems. Second, they challenged the propriety of the rules mandating network neutrality within wireless networks. Third, they scrutinized the rules governing interconnection, which is how networks exchange traffic with each other.

The judges seemed to challenge the agency hard on the second and third issues, the ones regarding mobile networks and interconnection. Their primary concern focused on certain last-minute changes to the order. Specifically, the judges questioned whether the public was given proper notice of those changes and whether the changes were properly integrated into the overall regulatory scheme. The FCC fared the best on the first issue, but even then it faced tough questions about why the scheme differed so much from the way the rules were initially proposed.

What might these questions signal for the future? Losing on any of these three issues would risk leaving the regulatory scheme incoherent. As one of the judges noted, striking down part of the rules would lead to the strange result subjecting people to one set of rules when using a cell phone connected to a cellular network and to another set of rules when the same phone is connected via WiFi, an occurrence common when users use phones in different parts of the same house. Similarly, rules that regulated how traffic is treated within a network would likely prove ineffective in preventing differential treatment if they could not also address the ways traffic gets to a network. The agency had to run the table if it was going to accomplish its goals, and it appears to have fallen short.

Many of these problems stem from the somewhat surprising decision to fold the Internet into the regime designed to regulate the traditional telephone system. This change represents a sharp break with a decades-long, bipartisan consensus that has created a vibrant online industry that is the envy of other countries and instead falls in line the approach followed by every other country in the world.

The change in approach represents substantial risk to the ethos of innovation that has created Internet companies that are the envy of the rest of the world. The approach followed by U.S. policymakers until February of this year left innovators free to experiment with new products and business models unless the new practice is shown to be harmful. In short, the default answer for innovation has been yes, allowing new services to emerge without asking anyone’s permission.

Allowing the Open Internet Order to stand in its current form risks reversing this presumption, changing the default answer from yes to no. As the judge presiding at oral argument noted, the FCC abandoned the blueprint for continuing the tradition of light-touch regulation that the court provided in its prior decision. Congress has long considered enacting new legislation instead of forcing the Internet into the old regulatory regime designed for the telephone system, but such a step seems unlikely in the current political climate. In the meantime, a judicial decision overturning the Open Internet Order in whole or in part might provide the first step to returning to the approach that has proven so successful.

Christopher S. Yoo is the John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science and Founding Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition at the University of Pennsylvania.

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