May 10, 2010

Distinguishable? [1:51 pm]

A thought puzzle — compare and contrast.

  • Option A: Bottlers fight push for federal water tax [pdf}

    An effort in Congress to spend tens of billions of dollars to fix the nation’s aging water systems is facing stiff opposition from soda and bottled water companies, which are major beneficiaries of publicly owned supplies but are fighting a proposal to tax them to pay for the upgrades.

    [...] “We’re zeroing in on people who get a disproportionate benefit and rely on safe, secure water sources,’’ said Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who introduced legislation that would raise $10 billion annually — including $3.5 billion for drinking water systems — through a tax on bottlers and other water-dependent industries.

    [S]oda and bottled water companies — already battered by attacks from environmental groups over their plastic packaging — said the cost of upgrading such components as reservoirs and aqueducts should be shared more broadly.

    “The Blumenauer bill is singling out one product unfairly and disproportionately, and it’s not going to solve the problem,’’ said Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, a trade group that represents bottlers, distributors, and suppliers. “This is a gigantic undertaking. This is like the space program, something that goes way beyond taking out a vendetta on one politically incorrect product.’’

    Tracey Halliday, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, which represents big soft drink companies, said they also are opposed to the legislation.

    Bottlers use municipal water for many drinks, including filtered and distilled water. Company executives contend that they are modest water consumers compared with farms and factories.

  • Web’s Users Against Its Gatekeepers [pdf]

    Proponents of the current system — called network neutrality — see that principle as a kind of civil rights declaration of the digital age, one that requires the gatekeepers of the global Internet to treat all users equally, regardless of application, source or download limit.

    While operators have never been required to maintain neutrality, the industry has created that expectation largely by charging users a flat rate for unlimited Internet access.

    But there is a big flaw in the concept, according to the operators: Networks have never been neutral. They have always been actively managed to some extent since their inception in the 1980s to ensure that all customers get a basic “best effort” level of service.

    If an operator could not restrain bandwidth hogs, who typically make up 15 percent of customers but who generate 80 percent of the traffic, most Internet users would experience poor service.

    [...] The arcane issue of network management, and the free speech and competition issues it raises, has taken on broader political importance as operators have increasingly micromanaged the flow of data, favoring some users over others as they have sought to handle exploding levels of traffic or deliver premium broadband service at guaranteed speeds to heavy users and businesses.

    [...] “We use a form of network management to say, ‘I’m sorry, you are not going to be able to get the same level of service unless you decide to top up,”’ said Richard Feasey, Vodafone’s public policy director in London.

    As data traffic levels rise, some executives, like César Alierta, the chairman and chief executive of the Spanish operator Telefónica, and Vittorio Colao, the Vodafone chief executive, have floated the idea of charging not only customers but also Web sites that generate lots of data traffic, like Google, Amazon and Facebook, for faster, guaranteed service.

    Web businesses, which depend on fast Internet paid for by individual customers, oppose the idea and have been pushing lawmakers in Brussels and Washington to adopt restrictions preventing operators from making deals with content providers.

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