Sunday, June 11, 2006

This Network Neutrality Thing

Much abuzz about Network Neutrality in my e-mail today. Actually, I've been hearing about this issue for some time and couldn't make heads or tails out of it. I think I finally understand part of what it's about, but I'm not sure where I stand on it. This article explains some of it.

What this is about is some telecommunication companies want to create a two tiered internet where customers that use a lot of bandwidth would pay extra for higher speeds, or some such. Others, like me, would be stuck using slower speeds.

One question I have is what kind of speeds are we talking about here? Are these premium customers going to get even higher speeds than broadband now offers, or, are they going to be the ones that get to use DSL and cable and the rest of us have to go back to the old dial up 56k connections?

I can't imagine the second choice being possible with the widespread use of broadband today, so it would seem to me they'd have to provide even higher speeds to their premium customers and the rest of us would have to suffer through the internet with DSL or cable.

That's fine with me. When you think about it, we already have two tiered internet: Broadband users and those who still use the old 56k dial up. Most of us pay extra for the higher speed of broadband. If you don't want to pay so much, you can always go back to the old cheap 56k dial up.

So, I can't help but wonder what all the bruohaha's about. Sure, it sounds great that everyone has equal access to the internet but I can't help but wonder about how much connection speed has to do with equal access, especially when broadband is already more than fast enough for my purposes?

If they forced everyone who didn't pay a premium fee to go back to 56k, I'd be pissed, but I don't think that will be happening.

I'll stay on the sidelines with this one, at least until I can understand the issue a little more. If anybody has any enlightening info on Net Neutrality, feel free to post it here.


At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I'm not an expert on this issue, I'm an engineer who worked many years for telecommunications companies from before the Bell breakup.

The issue of net neutrality relates to how the internet as a whole is paid for. Originally the Federal Government, through DARPA(Defense Advanced Project Agency), paid for the high capacity connections between the main net routers and users paid for low capacity connections to those routers, using the telephone system. DARPA built a lot of infrastructure so much of the internet growth has "piggybacked" on those DARPA paid connections.

Now, additional infrastructure connnections are needed for services that transfer more data like voice, video, and interactives. But DARPA is mostly out of the picture. So, who is going to pay now? The network providers, like Sprint, ATT, Willtel, Verizon say that charging the end users based on their potential use would raise the price of DSL to $50-100. Since many users won't pay that, and many don't need new services now, the providers propose that the generators of services, like movie studios, google, yahoo, pay for the network expansions those servives will need.

Content generators think the network providers are inflating their costs to fund their own services. They cite the history of the Bell monopoly for their doubts. Also, their business models would be impacted with additional costs that will reduce their ability to raise money to develop new products.

Its in the financial interests of both the network providers and the content generators to raise usage of the internet but neither want sot give market power to the other. In any case, like televison, the end user will pay either directly with access fees or indirectly through payment for services.

The network providers say they want to keep minimum access fees low to encourage more users.

The content generators say they believe net access is a recognized essential service everyone will pay for. When all users pay equally they will have no economic reason to limit their use and will more readily accept new products.

My personal take is more with the network providers simply because I favor usage based charges. I think usage based systems encourage innovation in efficiency and winnow out excessive users and freeloaders. Remember, when phone charges were higher you didn't get many garbage solicitation calls. There's already too much garbage on the internet IMHO and raising the bar slightly wouldn't be a bad thing. Making a thing too cheap with flat fees often results in needless waste. Notice how free road construction encourages excessive use of automobiles and land. Innovative and determined people will find ways to get their content on the net cheaply. Rates can be regulated if there is a shown public interest need. Let the people who have a lot of need for the internet and the people who have little need for the internet pay accordingly.


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