Saturday, September 04, 2010

Net Neutrality Is Important, and Pay-Per-View is NOT Analagous

The complications notwithstanding, net neutrality, broadly speaking, is what exists now. Among the many benefits net neutrality brings is that it fosters innovation. The great fear of the net neutrality purists, however, is that without federal rules, the Internet providers will begin cutting deals with content providers to give certain traffic priority over other traffic. For instance, Verizon could cut a deal with YouTube that allowed its videos to stream faster than, say, a Hulu video. Or it could even block Hulu. Or it could begin charging consumers extra for Netflix movies that were of better quality than ordinary streaming. As Harold Feld, Public Knowledge’s legal director, puts it: “Companies do what companies do.”
(Which brings up one of the true oddities about the fervor over net neutrality. Cable television distributors make decisions all the time about what people can see and how much they have to pay for it. If special sports-only tiers aren’t an example of placing some content over other content, I don’t know what is. Yet because it is merely television, and not the sacred Internet, nobody seems to view this practice as a crime against humanity. But I digress.) [my italics]
The first paragraph is a good explanation of net neutrality, but the immediate following aside is completely irrelevant. The huge flaw in the second paragraph is that it confuses arrangements between content provider and consumer with the role of the traffic carrier in the middle. Nobody is saying YouTube can't charge more for streaming high-definition content, for example. The point is that it is not the business of the man-in-the-middle, the internet carrier, to get involved in that (or any other arrangement). Packets are packets; if you want to charge more for the volume of packets, that's fine, but make no distinctions about the content of a packet.

I have always been a free-market, low-regulation kind of guy (you might call that a traditional regulatory conservative) . But traditional conservatives would  generally recognize the need for a level of regulation in natural monopolies, and most particularly in utilities. The internet backbone is very much a utility--it carries a commodity that most people use on a daily basis. It is very appropriate that is be subjected to a minimal level of regulation

All the more so in the case of the internet, where most of the development costs were borne by the DoD and universities, not by the private carriers that now benefit from this wonderful invention of the "commons".

It's frustrating that elite professional journalists, and their editors (New York Times) could make such elementary mistakes.

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