Congress Likes Net Neutrality…

    February 8, 2006

Telcos Pledge Neutrality, But Its Not What You Think.

As reported by Ars Technica, the telco and cable industry are trying to coopt the concept of network neutrality, saying that their multi-tiered broadband is somehow part of it, and not the problem for which neutrality is the solution. Basically, telcos are saying that they can charge extra fees for “Quality of Service” for certain services, and that will be neutral because it allows everyone to use the same internet pipeline, but those who need more of it can pay for that.

Isn’t that the same thing they were saying a week ago? Users pay for a pipeline. If their services are not getting the full speed of the pipeline, a pipeline they pay a monthly fee for, then they are not getting the services as promised. I don’t see how the telcos can charge extra for QoS and say they aren’t delivering a lower quality of service for everyone else, and I don’t know how a telco can claim to be delivering a certain number of megabits per second and deliver less, and not be cheating the customer.

This is going to be a long fight, I predict. Neither side is backing down as long as there is this much at stake.

Byron Dorgan (D-ND) sided with Google and echoed their claim about payment.

Referring to a recent Washington Post report in which a Verizon executive said Google and others shouldn’t expect to enjoy a “free lunch” on its pipes, Dorgan said such reasoning was flawed. “It is not a free lunch(broadband subscribers have) already paid the monthly tollThose lines and that access is being paid for by the consumer.”

As we have pointed out in previous coverage of the issue, the telcos have largely backed away from any ideas about degrading or limiting Internet service. Instead, their plan seems to call for the creation of a multi-tiered Internet experience, where users could pay additional fees for quality of service (QoS) guarantees on certain services in order to ensure better performance. The network operators claim that this model preserves the idea of network neutrality because they would do nothing to hinder regular traffic or prevent access to any services. You may recall that this was the exact model proposed by entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who argues that it is fairer to everyone by letting those who require QoS guarantees pay for the privilege of having them-much as a shipping service charges more for guaranteed overnight delivery, but will still deliver a package for far less if you are willing to wait.

Expect network operators in both the telco and cable industries to continue spreading FUD about network neutrality even as they pledge to accept it. Consumers are unlikely to see any obviously abrasive measures taken by the network owners (such as blocking or degrading Vonage, for instance, or slowing access to Google), but are likely to start seeing offers to “upgrade” their Internet experience with some type of preferred QoS offerings that would come on top of their monthly access charge. If done right, this would not necessarily be a bad thing, but it is certainly an area to watch closely. The reality might turn out to be that several years down the road, default Internet packages will indeed be network neutral, but will also be wholly undesirable.

Nathan Weinberg writes the popular InsideGoogle blog, offering the latest news and insights about Google and search engines.

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