Dept. of Justice Comes Down on Net Neutrality

    September 7, 2007

Forget pipes—the Internet is all about postage and packages now. Just ask the U.S. Department of Justice. For some reason, they seem to think that the fact that the USPS “allows consumers to send packages with a variety of different delivery guarantees and speeds, from bulk mail to overnight delivery” means that the US government cannot legislate or enforce net neutrality.

The DoJ weighed in on the issue for the FCC, the body that is supposed to regulate television, telephone and related industries. Rumor has it, though, that the FCC’s governing board is deeply divided over net neutrality.

If you’re not familiar with net neutrality, the basic premise is that telecom companies want to charge more for accessing certain types or sources of content. The biggest specter raised anti-telecommers always seems to be telecoms creating a “two tiered” Internet, where users have to pay extra to visit search engines or watch video.

The Financial Times puts it more gently:

The big telecoms carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Communications and cable operators like Comcast that would like the option to charge some users extra fees for carrying certain web content such as video.

The Financial Times also paraphrased the DoJ: “differentiating service levels and pricing is a common and often efficient way of allocating scarce resources and satisfying consumer demand.”

Call me crazy, but I could have sworn I was already paying extra for a “differentiated service level” and the ability to access video content with my huge bandwidth bill.

Let’s assume that the “some users” they’ll be charging would include, say, the users actually accessing video. Heck, I’ll even narrow it to the ones streaming video.

Oh, wait. According to comScore, that would be 75% of US Internet users, or 132 million people (that would also be about 44% of the total US population). So three-quarters of Internet users should pay more to keep getting what they’ve been getting so that the other one-quarter can pay the same for the features that they’re not using?

The Financial Times paraphrases and quotes the DoJ’s comments:

[P]recluding broadband providers from charging content and application providers directly for faster or more reliable service, “could shift the entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements on to consumers”.

So, let me go through this one more time. We’ll charge 75% of the Internet population more for the same services they get now (to save the other 25% some money) so that, somehow, the cost of infrastructure upgrades will not be passed on to the consumer. Oh but wait, that 75%’s hard-earned money is already paying for the infrastructure upgrades. Yeah, that’s sure to keep the cost off the consumers.

Let’s cut to the chase: the people at the DoJ (or at least the ones who wrote this, since I’m sure some of them are over on YouTube right now) are in the 25%.