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Internet Neutrality

The Christian Science Monitor wants to know: Whose Internet is it, anyway?

“Net neutrality” simply means that data – a phone call, an e-mail, a video – can travel freely over the Internet without the interference of those who own parts of the pipeline. Those transmitting it shouldn’t discriminate as long as the content is legal and doesn’t damage the system.

The phone companies argue that competition between carriers will prevent abuses. If customers feel unfairly treated by one provider, they can switch to another.

But no such competition exists. A handful of cable TV and phone companies control the lion’s share of US broadband Internet access. Many consumers have no choice among broadband providers. The acquisition of Bell South by AT&T, now under way, shows that competition is shrinking, not expanding.

The so-called competition in my area is between Sprint and Cox Cable. No one should be surprised that both market TV, telephone & Internet packages with a total price difference wouldn’t buy a pack of gum.

10 comments

1 Steve Bates { 03.25.06 at 10:14 pm }

It gets worse. Consider what AOL is doing to email, and note that if carriers are legally allowed to discriminate regarding content, on any basis other than what the content provider and recipient are willing to pay for bandwidth, we could have a similar situation with the web.

For example, AT&T, as content provider, could buy a music downloading service, then, in its role as provider of the pipeline, it could slow competing iTunes deliveries to a crawl, while delivering its own music downloads at full broadband rates. I’m sure you can think of a lot of other examples.

This is a lot like allowing doctors to own medical testing clinics or pharmacies, and it looks to me as if we’re going to go through that same sort of battle again if internet transport providers are allowed to become content providers and give their own content preferential treatment.

Enjoy your surfing now, everyone; today may turn out to be the golden age of the internet.

2 bryan { 03.25.06 at 10:39 pm }

We both know they are going to squeeze every nickel they can from people. This is like the @home debacle when they “walmarted” @home until it went broke and then they had to scramble to get their users back on line.

These guys don’t want competition, and they will do everything they can to create a cartel environment. They’ve seen competition and they didn’t like it. This is exactly why deregulation doesn’t work; corporations don’t like the free market.

3 pkp646 { 03.28.06 at 5:23 pm }

The argument in favor of competition does not revolve around the question of cost. Providers who commit some impropriety such as blocking content or raising prices would lead to people leaving services. The movement of customers in response would help prevent these abuses. Also, developments in wireless technology as well as satelite providers have popped up in many communities and their growth would only increase should thse problems happen. It is for these reasons and many others that I am opposed to any network neutrality legislation.

4 Bryan { 03.28.06 at 5:44 pm }

pkp, If there were actual competition, the market would take care of the problem, but there isn’t. The number of corporations involved gets smaller every year, and their pricing is anything except competitive.

Locally, Sprint and Cox have driven everyone else out of the market, buying up the local ISPs. In large cities there still exists the possibility of competition, but for most of the country your choices are the local telephone company, or the local cable company.

Some cities have tried to provide wireless access as a public utility, but are being fiercely opposed by the corporations, even when the corporations have no plans to offer such service themselves.

Corporations are by their nature a violation of capitalism – they limit risk. They oppose real competition because that is another form of risk.

5 Paulaner01 { 03.28.06 at 7:45 pm }

Doesn’t the FCC already ensure that no provider can block or discriminate when it comes to content? So where does Congress come into the picture? I can’t recall a time when Congressional regulation actually led to the competition and innovation that all of us seem to be shooting for. The Internet and everyone who uses it have done just fine without government being involved, and will only continue to develop and progress if we leave it up to the consumer and not the candidates.

6 Bryan { 03.28.06 at 8:07 pm }

Paul, the problem is that the various carriers are trying to change the rules so that they can discriminate, so they can offer different levels of service.

It’s like the recent ruling by the Federal Election Commission on the Internet; people are trying to force regulation on the Internet, and if you don’t stop them only people with a lot of money will be able to flourish.

Internet Neutrality is about maintaining the status quo and blocking changes.

7 keepitfree { 03.28.06 at 10:00 pm }

Actually, it is Congress that is trying to enact change to enforce new (and unnecessary) regulations. I agree with PKP. Consumers who own Ipods will not tolerate a service that does not facilitate Itunes. Remember, consumers have the ability to refuse service entirely.

On the other hand, if we allow the government to get involved, who knows what interests will come into play. Perhaps Congress will force carriers to give preference to their own pet causes? What can the consumer do then? Nothing at all, and that’s my problem with government intervening before it is absolutely necessary.

8 Bryan { 03.28.06 at 10:33 pm }

Exactly what can individual do if the backbone companies decide to charge difference rates? These aren’t the Internet Service Providers, these are the people who own the major communications links. An individual doesn’t deal with them, and can’t affect their bottom line in any way.

You could complain to I-tunes and they might be forced to pay for the “new” service, but you’ll see an increase in the cost of a download to cover the fee.

No one asked the customers of Bellsouth if they wanted to be part of a re-born AT&T, but it happened. The only voice customers have is the Congress. That’s not the way the system should work, but it is the way the system does work.

9 pkp646 { 04.04.06 at 11:35 pm }

Bryan- It is true that in some areas competition is currently small or non-existent. What I would say, however, is to take a look at the booming wi-fi and satellite markets. They would quickly step in to provide the very competition that I am talking about should the telco’s upset the consumer. No, it’s not a perfect system, but I would still argue that it is better than getting the government involved. And, again, I don’t see any reason to believe that the telco’s will block content. It just seems like bad business.

10 Why Now? » Blog Archive » Internet Neutrality Again { 04.28.06 at 11:45 am }

[…] A month ago I wrote about a Christian Science Monitor opinion piece on Internet neutrality, but Congress is still attempting to help its campaign donors. […]