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Mailbag: Readers respond to the ‘Net neutrality debate, Part 2

Mar 08, 20063 mins

* Internet neutrality: Does it make a difference, asks one reader

Today we’ll conclude our discussion on Internet neutrality with some abridged reader comments. Thanks again to everyone for their insights and comments.

One of the positions we took was that due to the many “choke points” between the user’s screen and the provider’s content, enforcement of neutrality was nearly impossible without intrusive monitoring. Craig points out that we left out one option, suggesting that “if a service provider begins to offer differentiated services, the FCC could impose fines etc., and if a company notices their content is blocked or consistently under-performs, they can register a complaint with the FCC.”

However, we believe that the service providers are masters of the FCC maze and can make such a fight prolonged and expensive if they so choose. Witness the UNE-P decision and the fact that what started to be a move to unbundle local loop turned into a 10-plus-year legal battle. While the FCC can and has certainly monitored problems like signaling network failures, we believe that such monitoring and enforcement is only effective if both sides start on the same side of the argument. We conclude that if the providers want to charge for preferred access, eventually they will probably get their wish.

Jeff writes to challenge our analogy that it wouldn’t be fair for an airline to give preferred treatment to passengers if their destination-city hotel pays a little extra. Taking a turn on the analogy, he correctly points out that “the airlines do not allow a passenger to bring as much luggage as he wishes on his flight. He is limited to a couple of pieces and must pay for extra luggage.” Jeff asks us: “Wouldn’t this be like charging for more bits, like some service providers do already?”

Our comment: Jeff makes a valid point. However, it is still the passenger who pays for the extra baggage to be transported, not the hotel. And we support the notion that the user who burdens the Internet (or the luggage compartment) should pay for the privilege.

Wayne writes suggesting that perhaps service providers like Verizon and AT&T are really trying to find a way to pay for Internet infrastructure improvements with preferred status charges so they can offer services like IP-TV. He believes that “the social impact that Google worries about is that consumers will have less choice of network operator, application, and content. Verizon could make its own search engine perform better and limit the quality of movies you find elsewhere, such as using Google Video to search competing suppliers.”

While we’re not sure Internet infrastructure providers like Verizon want to put other content providers out of business, we think that, in the declining access prices attributed to cable company competition infrastructure providers are certainly getting creative about how to cover their massive capital outlays.

And finally, we’ll let Mark have the last word for this series. Apparently he considers ‘Net neutrality much ado about nothing. He writes: “I get a full screen in .5 seconds you get a full screen in .4 seconds, can you really tell the difference? I pay $50 a month and get 512Kbps bandwidth, you pay $30 and get 380Kbps – is it worth it to change? This ‘Net neutrality is getting a lot of lip flapping but this is one case where it makes NO difference.”