Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Net Neutrality in the Trenches - Part 1

Before positions harden and trenches are dug, it's worth pausing to re-consider the net neutrality debate. The issue is drawing fresh commentary from all kinds of people -- former FCC Chairmen and maverick owners of NBA basketball teams. And it's about time. Certain technology issues demand public discussion. Net neutrality is that kind of issue.

To keep posts a reasonable length, let's do this in two parts. Pro and Con.

First, the Internet as we know it will change. Broadband, streaming video and multimedia content will bring new services and new user experiences. The flat Internet and its dumb pipes will evolve.

Part 1: Arguments against Net Neutrality

1. Money: Telcos are spending $15 billion a year on capital expenditures to build broadband networks enabling companies like Yahoo and Google to deliver video, voice, etc. to everyone who wants it. Why shouldn't these content providers pay for this? And why should websites that use little bandwidth effectively subsidize a company like Google, especially when it enjoys 50% profit margins?

2. Market: The Internet in the U.S. is a private, for-profit industry. The market has and should take care of these issues. People and companies will pay for services they want, and ignore services (and prices) they are unwilling to accept. With broadband, if a super "fast lane" is created, why shouldn't people pay for it, if they want it?

3. Choice: There will always be multiple ways of accessing the Internet. It is not like the cable industry, which is a government protected monopoly. So, consumers and companies will always have leverage to choose how (and at what price) they access the Internet. And competition is only expected to increase in the future.

4. Content Control: Content providers--especially those with rich multimedia content--will want more control over their property (e.g., videos), pricing and the consumer experience. The Internet is not built to distribute mass-market video. Partnering with cable companies to provide premium services (at premium fees) is the only reasonable approach. You can also call this the Mark Cuban Argument.

5. "If It Ain't Broke...": Cable and telephone companies have pledged not to block or impair the packet flow of competing services. This is the current situation, and that should be enough, especially if the FCC guards against anti-competitive actions.

6. Contract Hell: In reality, the Internet is a complex web of contracts among endless service and content providers. It is neither feasible nor wise to create inflexible rules that will force the revision of millions of contracts and risk major unintended effects, especially before any real problems have arisen.

Feel free to add any others you think are worth hearing . . .

Part II will lay out Arguments for Net Neutrality (including new comments from an FCC voice).


Anonymous said...

The Wall Street Journal has referred to net neutrality as infrastructure socialism. Comment?

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