Just Say No(thing)

Months after he sparked off a debate over network neutrality, SBC/AT&T chairman and chief executive, Ed Whitacre, is again making threatening (and very confusing) noises. In a chat with the Financial Times he said:

“I think the content providers should be paying for the use of the network – obviously not the piece from the customer to the network, which has already been paid for by the customer in Internet access fees – but for accessing the so-called Internet cloud.”

This is a different tact from the first time around. He had originally complained that folks like Google and Yahoo were getting a free ride on their pipes, and should pay them. Well, consumers had paid for their DSL connections, many pointed out, a big brouhaha ensued. Techdirt weighs in on FT comments,

He’s actually suggesting that when we buy bandwidth, we’re just buying the bandwidth from the end-point to the backbone… and everything else is just free.

His latest comments however have me confused. So essentially what he is saying, no no not charge for the content that travels on the last mile, but charge on the long-haul and metro network. Given the pricing trends in that market, that’s not too much money. As a very smart man on a private mailing list points out, the Internet has pushed the cost to the edge, so how much money there is to be made by charging content providers for QoS?

I bet these issues (and comments) are going to become fodder for US Congress which is going to start taking a closer look at the Network Neutrality in coming months. The interesting part of the equation is that even businesses are feeling a little threatened by the RBOC posturing. James Blaszak, whose law firm, Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby, who works for large companies on telecom issues recently told eWeek:

“If I pay for the loop that gets me access to the network, why is it that someone who wants to send me something should also pay? What if they say, to get to your customers for you to sell your wares, we want a share of your revenues? Once you buy into the notion that the telephone companies should be able to charge entities other than those that are buying access to the Internet, I don’t know where you stop.”