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Net Neutrality, Now With Less Spin

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Have the telecoms and cable companies just abandoned the Net Neutrality fight altogether? It used to be they staged aggressive rhetoric battles, created questionable studies, and pretended to honor Net Neutrality on their own – without legislation.

Lately though, they seem to have gone radio silent about the matter and have even abandoned the so-called "good behavior" doctrine that kept the need for Net Neutrality protection out of the spotlight.

Often the Net Neutrality debate runs afoul of the central issues as sub-debates ensue about how much competition there is in the broadband space (not much is the answer), the wireless space, what speeds are available (pathetic compared to Hong Kong), or even the latest Washington politician to be bought by a telecom (Jay Rockefeller, it appears).

But the main argument against Net Neutrality, which has been routinely and in unison (fa la la’d) by telecom, cable co., and Republican alike, is that the concept in legislative form was a solution in search of a problem – and that the Internet would be crippled, causing entire economic structures to crash and people to die for lack of good connectivity.

(Which is funny seeing as proponents of a neutral network are usually the ones accused of telling Chicken Little stories).

Also is the tenet that there’s just not enough bandwidth for the next evolution of the Web, which includes a helluva lot of video (and then the side-fight begins as angry citizens remind of the missing $200 billion in infrastructure money). In order to accommodate for increased bandwidth demand, the ability to differentiate and prioritize certain packets of data is essential.

(Differentiating and prioritizing, then, leads to a nice opportunity to make some extra money, and if you’re name ain’t Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft, you won’t be able to afford to be differentiated and prioritized.)

Lastly, there is the incentive-to-invest argument. With Net Neutrality protections set in stone – well, paper – service providers would lose their incentive to invest in said infrastructure (yes, we know, side-arguers, it’s already paid for, see above $200 billion).

Yet, as all these arguments have been made (loudly) in the past, the telecommunications and cable companies belie themselves with their actions – which would usually signify a time to crank up the spin machine. AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have all demonstrated the need to limit their gatekeeping abilities in swift succession.

First Eddie Vedder’s AT&T’s censored remarks, then Verizon’s dusty SMS policy, AT&T’s more recent (and rescinded) policy of cutting off detractors, and this week Comcast’s blocking of BitTorrent traffic. (A side argument is appropriate here, as well, regarding the cozy relationship between telecoms and government agencies – disallowing the ability to differentiate would also limit government agencies’ ability to snoop on us. But let’s stay on topic.)

"This [Comcast] incident is the latest in a pattern of bad behavior from the telephone and cable companies," says Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press. "This is a disturbing trend that validates all of the concerns of the Net Neutrality advocates."

In short, the problem we were looking for has been found.

Ben’s comments come just as Verizon’s John Czwartacki reveals on the Verizon Public Policy blog that bandwidth concerns are a thing of the past with the company’s fiber-to-the-premises FiOS offering.

In response to and Engadget writer, Czwartacki writes:

As you correctly point out, our fiber optic capacity and the FiOS network have almost no practical limit. We have more HD channels than many other carriers, we offer internet speeds only dreamed about by cable and over fiber — THE state of the art communications technology.   Like everyone else we’re adding more channels and more bandwidth as fast as we can.  The difference is we have the capacity to stay ahead of the pack.

Simultaneously, he also makes the case for incentive to invest (it’s in TV/Web integration), and then reiterates:

[T]here is no "technological limitation” in our video hubs and central offices.  In our fiber system it is just a matter of adding new equipment to increase capacity.  We continue to do that every day adding to the number of homes passed, the number of channels offered, and adding faster data speeds.

In another post (for you side-arguers interested in where the US ranks in broadband speeds) Czwartacki reveals there’s no incentive to give you the fastest speeds available, either:

Please note: just because we can drive 100mbs to your FiOS connected home, doesn’t mean we are going to start tomorrow.  For most users today, you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of such speed or see its full potential.  Kind of like having a Porsche in a town with all dirt roads.

Fair enough, even if the dirt roads are telecom-and-cable supplied as well, although we asked they be paved by now ten years ago. (It also means they get to charge you incrementally until – eventually – you get blistering speeds)

FCC commissioner Michael Copps recently testified before a Congressional committee that US ranks 11th, 12th, 15th, 20th, 24th, and 25th in the world, depending on which measure you look at, in broadband penetration.

Further, the lack of broadband penetration, says Copps, is costing Americans jobs. He cites recent studies to suggest that for every percentage point increase in broadband penetration – currently hovering around 50 percent – 300,000 jobs are created.

Just think how much innovation and job creation would result if we had speeds offered to Hong Kong residents – up to 1Gbps. Granted, the dirt roads still need paving.

Czwartacki did not return request for comment.
  

Net Neutrality, Now With Less Spin
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