Slow Lingering Death of Net Neutrality?

On the front page of The Wall Street Journal, the clock started to tick on the “network neutrality.”

Verizon Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg told reporters: “We have to make sure they don’t sit on our network and chew up our capacity.”

Anyone who forgot the comments of AT&T’s Ed Whitacre and BellSouth’s CTO Bill Smith, this is just a reminder. The argument is that the phone companies are going to charge for better performance for say games, or movie downloads or software downloads. It is not a bad thought, though only in cases where latency is a big issue. The argument of better network performance, as many in the business would tell you, is a bit of chimera.

Even if you buy into the argument, as a consumer, what I would like to see is that if incumbents charge for the network access, then they pass on those savings to consumers. After all we are paying for the network – about $40 a month. But back to the WSJ story, in which I found this gem of a quote that sums up the antagonistic approach.

“During the hurricanes, Google didn’t pay to have the DSL restored,” said BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher. “We’re paying all that money.”

I don’t know if you charge people about $75 a month, or about $825 a year for DSL and phone service, it is your job to fix the line. Did Google come and take my money as monthly service fee? Even HMOs don’t make statements like these!

“We need a watchful eye to ensure that network providers do not become Internet gatekeepers, with the ability to dictate who can use the Internet and for what purposes,” said Commissioner Michael Copps of the Federal Communications Commission. He helped press to get the FCC enforcement power over issues of “net neutrality” as a condition of recent mergers in the telecom industry. “Net neutrality” is the idea that owners of phone and cable networks can’t dictate how a consumer uses the Internet or discriminate against any Internet content, regardless of the source.

We addressed all these issues in our podcast, Two Tier Internet. The full transcript is here.

…charge a premium from certain people who want better performance, that is fine. The minute they start imposing a toll tax, this quasi-toll tax for the access part of it, that is where things get a little complicated. That’s where, as a consumer, you have to stand up and scream, because why are you paying them fifty dollars when they define what you can see or what you can’t see? So we cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now everybody’s made threats, nobody’s followed through. So it’s something we have to watch very carefully.