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Mozilla Warns of Stifling Government Regulation of Internet

The usual industry opponents of greater government regulation of the Internet - the big, bad ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T - have been turned into boogeymen by leftist outfits like Free Press and Public Knowledge. When the ISPs argue that letting the Federal Communications Commission micromanage the digital economy will stifle innovation and investment, they become easy targets - characterized as soulless corporations merely looking to preserve control over access to the Web so to exploit their powerless customers.

internetBut it's harder to make that case when a darling of the digital economy - such as open-source hero Mozilla, which brought the world the Firefox Web browser used by 350 million people - makes the same argument.

Winifred Mitchell Baker, the leader of the Mozilla project, warned an audience at a tech conference in Germany on Sunday that Internet expansion in the coming years is threatened by "regulatory disruption" caused by too much government meddling.

Baker said she worried about "the increase in laws that make it difficult to run an open network," especially rules about content.

"You suddenly become liable for anything that gets downloaded, whether it's legal or not," she said. "If you said to a municipality, if you build a road, you have to guarantee nothing illegal happens on it - that's what's happening on the Internet now. So that's the kind of regulatory disruption that's going to have some long-term consequences."

Baker, who made Time Magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people in 2005, was naturally only talking about the kind of bureaucratic rule-making that would affect her digital garden. But that's typical of the message from Internet's corporate bigwigs. They don't care much about how regulations may affect other companies, only how it affects them - which is why Skype, for instance, is a big supporter of rules (such as net neutrality) which will allow its business model to thrive while others would struggle, regardless of any overall harm regulations might do to broad innovation and investment.

It's a typical selfish argument, but Baker at least emphasizes the main point: "Regulatory disruption" has "long-term consequences" on tech innovation. She could have added more pointedly that regulatory disruption is unnecessary, and the consequences would undoubtedly be dramatic and unforseen.

A better model is market-based creative disruption, which is healthy, not arbitrary government disruption where regulators pick the winners and losers in the digital economy.

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James G. Lakely (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is co-director of the Center on the Digital Economy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News

    

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