Net Neutrality At Risk

Whether you realize it or not, the telecommunications carriers (ye olde telephone companies, or telcos) are trying very hard to make many of us second class citizens while at the same time charging us more for the privilege. They want tiered service for Internet services even though ISPs are already paying differing levels for service depending upon the bandwidth being provided. This is being pushed by the telcos in order to increase profits, in and of itself not a bad thing. But there are many who believe that such tiered service will be an act of “neutricide”, something that would be a Bad Thing™ for us all.

One such person trying to maintain net neutrality is Cory Doctorow.

Phone and cable companies are looking for the right to charge popular Internet sites like Google and Yahoo to carry data to customers. The big Internet companies, they argue, are getting a free ride, using lots of bandwidth to get to customers and not paying a fair price for it. This will only get worse, they say, as multimedia content becomes more popular, demanding more bandwidth.

This argument is rubbish. Internet companies already are paying for bandwidth from their providers, often the same companies that want to charge them yet again under their new proposals. And for these providers to be screaming for the protection of the free market is sheer hypocrisy--they themselves are creatures of government regulation, basing their business on government-granted extraordinary privileges.

Something must be done to protect net neutrality from phone and cable companies seeking to commit neutricide. These companies must be required to grant equal access to the Internet for all traffic. But these regulations will be tricky to write. Done badly, they'll stifle the competition they're trying to protect.

Why does network neutrality need protecting? Craigslist co-founder Craig Newmark addressed this point in an editorial he wrote for CNN.com: "Let's say you call Joe's Pizza, and the first thing you hear is a message saying you'll be connected in a minute or two, but if you want, you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. That's not fair, right? You called Joe's and want some Joe's pizza."

It's a dumb idea to put the plumbers who laid a pipe in charge of who gets to use it. It's a way to ensure that incumbents with the deepest pockets will always be able to deliver a better service to the public, simply by degrading the quality of everyone else's offerings. If you want to ensure that no one ever gets to creatively destroy an industry the way that Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo, and others have done, just make paying rent to a phone company a prerequisite for doing business.

I don't know about you, but it would certainly rankle me if the 'net ended up something like what was described above.

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