Thursday, April 06, 2006

Network neutrality nixed: Libraries get ready to open your wallets

The network neutrality amendment didn't go anywhere, which isn't surprising since cable and Telecoms lobby extensively for their interests and service providers like Yahoo and Google do not. For those not following the issue, network neutrality is the idea that when you are surfing the Internet content from a site that is signed with your ISP will be just as fast as content from another ISP. For example, under network neutrality Verizon won't slow down my Google searches because Google is on another companies pipes.

Going beyond the party breakdown of who was for it or against it, partisan discussions are rarely enlightening, you'll see interesting arguments on both sides. The idea of doing away with net neutrality was first proposed by SBC. The idea goes like this why should SBC give Google a free ride on its pipes when SBC customers do a search on Google or view streaming video from them. Google isn't paying SBC for the use of the pipes so why can't SBC slow down the speed of content delivery from non customers. The problem of course is that SBC customers are paying for Internet access and expect it to be at site independent speeds.

Where someone comes out on the issue depends on what model one uses to interpret network neutrality. Net neutrality is what we have now, all content is treated the same by your ISP whether it is streaming video or a call over Skype. Customers pay the same rate regardless of who they connect to or how often. The argument that is used is the "it ain't broke" reasoning of this is the current state of affairs.

What the telcos and cable companies are proposing is that they tier the internet so that you can pay one rate (likely the same rate people pay now) to access sites on the ISP which has their account at the current speed and other sites at a slower rate. There would be another tier where customers could pay more to get all sites at the same speed as they do now but have to pay more for the privilege. The argument for this usually uses the "In" cellular model. I pay less per call to people who have the same cell phone company.

There is more than the shaking out the last quarter from the consumer motive behind this. The other parts of the bill that did pass such as E911 and the nationwide broadcast regulation of telcos are major motivating factors in the tiered Internet idea. With the easing of E911 than cable companies are free to eat the lunch of telcos by providing VoIP service to their internet subscribers who may eventually decide to do away with their tradition phones. Telcos getting licensed nationally for video delivery coupled with the fiber-optic roll out means that cable companies will lose the monopolies they enjoy in many municipalities. Add stripping states of the ability to halt municipal broadband and you have a full on price war looming on the horizon.

Price wars are great for consumers but not so good for companies. That is where the tiered Internet comes in. By allowing Verizon to slow down Comcast customers' data signal VoIP from Comcast won't seem like such a hot deal with constant static and dropped calls. Verizon's IPTV won't be that hot compared to Comcast or a satellite provider when the customer's brand new HDTV is giving a picture not even worthy of 50's era TV. The pronouncements point to the "dead beats" of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft but the proposal is aimed more at the partners for a tiered Internet.

The worst part of the tiered Internet idea is that there is likely to be less of an uptake in these next generation services and higher prices. The consumer gets screwed yet again. Where this is bad for libraries is the obvious point that Internet and phone costs are likely to go up with the tiered proposal.Institutions that are strapped for cash will be forced to provide a worse service to patrons at the same cost.

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