If telecom and cable companies have their way, a new Telecommunications Act will allow them to create preferred tiers of service. The cable and telecom companies argue that this is the only way to make voice over IP and streaming media services sufficiently reliable to compete with traditional telephony and broadcast/cable/satellite.
Allowing preferential treatment will end the democratic experiment of the internet. Publishing online lowers the barriers to entry and promotes both creativity and free speech. A tiered internet service favors established interests over individuals. Such a plan could make it difficult for individuals to engage in broadcasting or publishing rather than simple communication.
This issue means more for the future of the internet than the price. It could affect the way that networks are linked together. To make the public interested in this issue before legislation passes, I fear that the proponents of network neutrality need to find a better term than the technically accurate, but un-sexy "network neutrality" to gain substantial public support. Perhaps "the freedom to connect"?
Here are some links about the fight over the future of internet access in the US.
In the NY Times, Randall Stross writes: Hey, Baby Bells: Information Still Wants to Be Free - New York Times: "For one thing, the occasional need for a preferential fast lane for streaming video - that is, moving pictures displayed as fast as they arrive, rather than downloaded first and played from memory - exists in the United States only because our standard broadband speeds are so slow. Were we ever to become a nation with networks supporting gigabit service, streaming video would not require special handling."
Lawrence Lessig: the fiction zone that DC has become "Broadband is infrastructure — like highways, if not railroads. If you rely upon “markets” alone to provide infrastructure, you’ll get less of it, and at a higher price. (See, e.g., the United States, today.)"
Susan Crawford: Rhetorical legerdemain "But it has finally become clear to me that the telephone companies are planning to ensure that subscribers never see “the Internet” at all over these high-speed connections. Instead, subscribers will see the “broadband video” offerings of the network owner, to which particular paying web sites and paying VoIP services have been added. They’ll be able to access “information derived from the Internet,” in the words of the bill, but not the internet itself. Only those willing to pay for slower access speeds (and perhaps willing to pay more for these slower speeds than for the high-speed access) will be seeing “the Internet.”"
Susan Crawford: Framing: "The debates over the future of the internet should begin (although they hardly ever do) by answering the question What Is The Internet?"
Adam Pennenberg, Slate: Internet Freeloaders: Should Google have to pay for the bandwidth it consumes? "If the telcos and cable companies get their way, we'll have a Balkanized Web. Content providers who can afford to pay for premium service will market superior products to consumers with fast connections. Everyone else will make do with second-class companies at second-class speeds."
Preston Gralla, Networking Pipeline: Google: We Won't Pay Broadband Cyberextortion: "The BellSouths and Verizons of the world should focus on offering better services at lower prices -- not trying to fine-tune the Tony Soprano business model. That's been tried already, by a company you may have heard of, called Enron. And look where it got them."
Ed Felten: How Would Two-Tier Internet Work? "I should say up front that although the two-tier network is sometimes explained as if there were two tiers of network infrastructure, the obvious and efficient implementation in practice would be to have a single fast network, and to impose deliberate delay or bandwidth throttling on non-preferred traffic."
Daniel Berninger: Net Neutrality Not An Optional Feature of Internet: "The Internet does not exist without net neutrality. Consider the misleading assertion that tinkering with network neutrality simply amounts to adding class of service as in the case of air travel or HOV lanes on highways. Network neutrality refers to the uses of the Internet not the quality of access. There already exists an infinite range of classes of service as regards Internet access. End users pay for what they get regarding the performance and capacity of Internet access. Internet content and service providers like Google, Amazon, and Vonage already pay for access to the Internet."
Paul Riismandel, Media Geek: The Future of the Internet Is on the Table: "I think the very ability for independent media makers to continue to use the internet to easily and inexpensively distribute their works is in jeopardy. AT&T and Verizon want to charge content providers for the data they send to their customers’ computers, even though content makers, like me, already pay for our own internet access in addition to the fees to host our content on servers."
Jef Chester, The Nation: The End of the Internet? " If we permit the Internet to become a medium designed primarily to serve the interests of marketing and personal consumption, rather than global civic-related communications, we will face the political consequences for decades to come."
Virtual Karma: Dad, What Was Internet? "Wait. I’m all confused here. We paid for our end of the bandwidth and the websites paid at their end. So who is getting a free ride here?"
AP: Building the Internet Toll Road: "On the internet, the traffic cops are blind -- they don't look at the data they're directing, and they don't give preferential treatment."
Christopher Stern, The Bergen Record: Roadblocks on the super- highway: "The changes may sound subtle, but make no mistake: The telecommunications companies' proposals have the potential, within just a few years, to alter the flow of commerce and information -- and your personal experience -- on the Internet. For the first time, the companies that own the equipment that delivers the Internet to your office, cubicle, den and dorm room could, for a price, give one company priority on their networks over another."