On Net Neutrality

My comment on a MediaShift article on Net neutrality, Why the Future of Online Speech Depends on Net Neutrality:

Google and Microsoft already pay “metering” fees — that is, they pay more for bandwidth than a firm with 1/1000th of their bandwidth usage. No one (that I know of) is saying that network neutrality means that the cost of transmitting 1GB of data should be the same as the cost of 1TB.

What network neutrality means is that Comcast can’t privilege its bits over bits from Blip.TV.

“Network neutrality” would be better framed as “non-discrimination” — just like Verizon, for example, can’t privilege Verizon phone calls over T-Mobile’s or AT&T’s. (Geeks should not name things.)

We need all infrastructure owners (cable, fiber, copper) to be considered “common carriers” — not just the telecos. This would mean that they would have to lease their infrastructure to other organizations and they would not be able discriminate based on the origin of a bit.

That’s not the case in the U.S. today. The cable industry has successfully convinced Congress that they should be exempt from common carrier law. The resulting law — someone probably has calculated how many millions in lobbying it cost — gives them an economic (competitive) advantage over telecos as that “last mile wire” becomes our pipe to our connection with the rest of the world: “television” and “movies” and “phone service” and “newspapers” and “radio” — and-and-and.

We have to separate content (the bits that represent text, photos, sound, moving pictures) from the delivery channel. That’s in part because we (society) can’t afford to have competing infrastructure: multiple “cable” or “fiber” wires on each-and-every neighborhood street. That sort of competition is economically inefficient: infrastructure is characterized by very high fixed costs and relatively low marginal costs (the cost of attaching the line to one-more-house).

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