Screwed Again. What Happened to Net Neutrality?

A series of individual events may seem insignificant when viewed in isolation, but becomes highly significant when viewed together. Now that cable companies and telcos have consolidated their near monopoly status (again!), there are new attempts to “stratify” the internet.
The first report comes from Canada. Users there of the Shaw cable broadband service report that using Vonage has become difficult or impossible, and that Shaw is now attempting to charge an additional “quality of service” surchage of CDN $10.00/month for users who want Vonage service (which competes with a similar Shaw-provided Shaw Digital Phone). According to Shaw:

Quality of service issues do not apply to Shaw Digital Phone because Shaw Digital Phone operates on its own separate, managed network. Voice traffic distributed along this network is never shared with public Internet networks, so you can be confident Shaw Digital Phone will deliver the service reliability and performance you expect. As an added safeguard, Shaw Digital Phone includes its own QoS Enhancement feature.

Uhuh. However, it seems that plenty of people in the rest of the world have managed to have acceptable VoIP service using their standard broadband connections. We get 30-frame-per-second video for heaven’s sake. Furthermore, most calls are going to end up leaving the Shaw network anyway to be terminated at some other endpoint…putting the traffic on the internet regardless of the shaw “end-to-end separate managed network”. This sounds like a blatent attempt to dictate what users run on their broadband connection. More on this one at ipdemocracy.

The second example was a statement from Deutsche Telekom that internet content providers such as Google and Amazon should pay extra for super-fast internet access. This echoed similar statements made lately by BellSouth and AT&T.

Here’s what I don’t get: The entire success of the Internet has been predicated on equal access for everyone. That’s how startup companies like eBay and Amazon got going…and frankly that is how the Bell companies, who are merrily consolidating back into themselves, and the cable companies who are doing the same, managed to avoid bankruptcy. So why is this trend a good idea? What ever happened to the notion of a “common carrier” which separates the delivery medium from the content. As soon as my cable company starts providing me specialized content over my cable broadband connection, there is an inherent conflict of interest. And since most of the U.S. is already highly uncompetitive as far as broadband with one or at most two possible providers, we’re already paying monopolistic pricing, stuck with poor service, and living with blocked ports and bizarre useage restrictions.

Or as Doc Searles quotes Bob Frankston on the reemergence of the notion of net neutrality:

It’s simple.

The Internet has won. Why negotiate terms of surrender?

We mustn’t settle for negotiating “Net Neutrality”. We must demand the basic right to connect and not just an enumerated list of what we are allowed to do. It’s no different from having to negotiate free speech by listing what is allowed. Having to beg for permission to speak is offensive.

What we need is very simple: a recognition that Internet-style connectivity is our right as fundamental infrastructure just like the roads are. We can share them like the roads or power lines.

Back to my original idea…that taken separately these incidents may seem insignficant. But, look at the whole collapse of the 1996 telecom deregulation decision by the FCC. Remember CLECS? Competitive Local Exchange Carriers? They were squashed by the Bell operating companies.
If we’re not careful, the whole thing is going to happen again. And we’re going to end up with haves and have-nots, “tiered” services…120 channels and still nothing to watch.

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