Broadband, Pricing and Regulation

Digital Domain: Hey, Baby Bells: Information Still Wants to Be Free

AT the top of my wish list for next year’s Consumer Electronics Show is this: the introduction of broadband service across the country that is as up to date as that 103-inch flat-screen monitor just introduced by Panasonic. The digital lifestyle I see portrayed so alluringly in ads is not possible when the Internet plumbing in our homes is as pitiful as it is. The broadband carriers that we have today provide service that attains negative perfection: low speeds at high prices.

It gets worse. Now these same carriers – led by Verizon Communications and BellSouth – want to create entirely new categories of fees that risk destroying the anyone-can-publish culture of the Internet. And they are lobbying for legislative protection of their meddling with the Internet content that runs through their pipes. These are not good ideas.

[…] Today, the network carrier has a minor, entirely neutral role in this system – providing the pipe for the bits that move the last miles to the home. It has no say about where those bits happened to have originated. Any proposed change in its role should be examined carefully, especially if the change entails expanding the carrier’s power to pick and choose where bits come from – a power that has the potential to abrogate network neutrality.

This should be taken into account when Baby Bells say they need to extract more revenue from their networks in order to finance service improvements. Consumers will pay one way or the other, whether directly, as Internet access fees, or indirectly, as charges when a content company opts for special delivery and passes along its increased costs to its customers. It would be better for the network carriers to continue to do as they have, by charging higher rates for higher bandwidth. (Sign me up for that one-gigabit service.)

Left unmentioned in Verizon’s pitch is the concentration of power that it enjoys in its service area, which would allow it to ignore the equal-access principle whenever it wishes. We are asked to take on faith that it and the other telephone companies with similar plans will handle ordinary network traffic with the same care they would show if they had not begun parallel businesses for the carriage trade. How likely is that?

China and the WWW

Now that gas prices have done to the SUV what it coulddn’t has the NYTimes found a new villain to attack? How many stories on this subject have we seen lately? China, Still Winning Against the Web

Sooner or later, the thinking went, China would have to plug into the Web, too, and however efficiently its leaders might have controlled information in the old days, they would be no match for this new democratic beast, decentralized and crackling with opinion and information from the four corners of the earth.

Things didn’t exactly turn out that way.

Later” Microsoft Amends Its Policy for Shutting Down Blogs