Star Tribune on Net Neutrality

My soon-to-be hometown newspaper, the Star Tribune, has run a story on net neutrality that makes the complex subject comprehensible to non-geeks. Not perfect, but a pretty good model for the hardworking activists promoting net neutrality in Congress. The story’s “lede” paints a nice picture:

Imagine if the Internet were like cable TV.

You pay $40 a month to Time Warner or Comcast, and you get a menu of 80 websites to visit.

Want to go to a site devoted to Japanese anime cartoons? Sorry, that’s not on the menu. Looking for that crazy blog about the history of matchbook covers? No longer available — or so slow to load it’s not worth your while.

That scenario could become real, some Internet mavens say, unless Congress acts quickly to preserve freedom of the Web. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has opened the door to greater corporate control of the Internet, and big business is ready to walk through it.

I don’t think AT&T’s attempt at a competing analogy works very well:

“Net neutrality proponents would actually limit choices and options for Internet users,” Ed Whitacre, chief executive officer of AT&T, said in a statement. “They say it is unfair for Internet users and content providers to pay different prices for different levels of speed, reliability and security.

“It’s like saying we should add no more lanes to a highway that is increasingly congested.”

That road example is just silly. To be accurate you have to add that access to the new lanes requires payment of a premium toll, while the rest of the traffic remains clogged.

4 Responses to “Star Tribune on Net Neutrality”

  1. I find most galling the argument that, “The common carrier is a model for 1910, not 2010 … You charge people based on what they use.”

    To me that sounds like, “The minimum wage is a model for 1940, not 2010 … You pay people what they’re willing to work for.”

  2. I think that description of the internet like cable TV is deceptively simplistic. I’m a part of the Hands Off the Internet coalition that is opposing net neutrality, so I know a bit about this issue.

    What we are really talking about here is setting up a two-tier internet. If net neutrality goes away, anyone could still access any website out there on a regular internet line. No one will be stopped from visiting any site. What the telecoms want to do is set up a high-speed “second tier” that would allow companies and individuals to pay extra in order to have rapid delivery of content such as High-Def video, VoIP etc. This would be in ADDITION to, regular internet access, so you could still go to any site you wanted.

    If Net Neutrality was mandated, then this second tier couldn’t be created, and that would drastically limit the technological development of the internet as a video on-demand medium.

  3. “John” from telco-funded Hands Off the Internet, paints only the most favorable scenario of a non-neutral net (with well-behaved telcos that act against their own economic interests out of altruism?), and contrasts it with a bad-case scenario of a neutral net.

    “John” claims that, “anyone could still access any website out there on a regular internet line.” Yet the telcos resist a law to require this. Instead they want us to trust them to behave against their own self-interest.

    Ed Whitacre’s threat that “they want to use my pipes for free . . . but I ain’t gonna let ‘em,” makes it clear that if it is legal for Whitacre to act on his threat, and if Google or Microsoft or eBay don’t pay, then Whitacre’s customers won’t have access to them. Ed won’t let ‘em.

    In contrast, “John” says that we WILL still have access to those sites.

    Who are you going to believe? The CEO of AT&T in a Business Week interview, or anonymous “John” in a blog comment?

    Also, Internet2, the largest, most reputable U.S. network research effort since Bell Labs, has found that tiered services are not needed to deliver even the most sophisticated services, including HDTV on demand. So “John’s” claim that the absence of tiers, “would drastically limit the technological development of the internet as a video on-demand medium,” is also false.

    “John” hits another hollow note in his comment. He says there’ll be a two-tier Internet, but why limit it to two tiers? We’re talking about price discrimination for “economic efficiency,” like the airlines, where every seat has a different price depending on whose butt is in it. Economic efficiency is served by having multiple tiers, where each willingness-to-pay is met with a commensurate price.

    In fact, network neutrality is why the Internet became the success that it is today. People at the edges of the net created email, the Web, Internet telephony, on-line music, etc., etc., over the active resistance of the telcos.

    Now the telcos want us to trust them as they gut network neutrality. As if they know what innovation even is. As if they know how to do it better. They’re killing the goose that’s laid the golden eggs. They’re draining the baby with bathwater that isn’t even dirty. And they say they’re the Emperor of the Internet with some mighty fine clothes. Sorry, John, he naked.

  4. Davie, put your own clothes on.

    It is well known economic result that price discrimination can often lead to a more economically efficient result in the presence of market power (e.g., monopoly or duopoly).

    Drop the rhetoric and learn some economics.