Posted December 15, 2008 7:22 am by with 9 comments

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Net neutrality is officially a real topic again, I guess. Heck, it’s on the front page of net-neutralitythe Wall Street Journal this AM so it must be important, right? Sorry for the cynicism first thing on Monday but after reading a rather lengthy report on the threat to net neutrality that is being spearheaded by Google I feel like I may have actually gotten up on the wrong side of the bed after all.

I’ll summarize. Google is doing some behind the scenes negotiating to create an internet fast lane that would give those who could pay for it a real advantage in content delivery*. The telcos love the idea because it replaces revenue that is being lost due to their antiquated land line systems and their unwillingness to change with the times.

Further, president elect Obama has taken a pretty consistent stance on net neutrality. Power to the people. However, Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, has been rumored as a possible CTO of sorts for the US. Does anyone see a disconnect here? In addition, there are many who are lined up for positions (like FCC chief honcho) that have apparently ‘softened’ their positions on net neutrality. Here’s an example from the article

But some of those who advise the new president on technology have changed their view on network neutrality. Stanford’s Mr. Lessig, for one, has softened his opposition to variable service tiers. At a conference, he argued that carriers won’t become kingmakers so long as the faster service at a higher price is available to anyone willing to pay it.

“There are good reasons to be able to prioritize traffic,” Mr. Lessig said later in an interview. “If everyone had to pay the same rates for postal service, than you wouldn’t be able to differentiate between sending a greeting card to your grandma versus sending an overnight letter to your lawyer.”

Add to this the fact that Microsoft and Yahoo! who had gone on virtual radio silence over the issue which they vigorously supported as recently as two years ago are now releasing statements like this one from Microsoft

Microsoft, which appealed to Congress to save network neutrality just two years ago, has changed its position completely. “Network neutrality is a policy avenue the company is no longer pursuing,” Microsoft said in a statement. The Redmond, Wash., software giant now favors legislation to allow network operators to offer different tiers of service to content companies.

Looks like this is an issue that could be a classic ‘about face’ now that the political waters have been stirred enough. My question is will the president elect protect the little guy (small business America) that will not have the wherewithal to pay for access to a content toll road? This one should be interesting to watch. Are there any Pilgrims with an opinion?

*Andy’s Update: Google has claimed the WSJ is “confused” about its intentions and has not–as the WSJ suggests–turned its back on net neutrality.

  • The postal service is a good example. Those who can afford a better service, do use courier services, other communication devices and those who cannot continue to use the postal services. Businesses exist to make a profit. To expect them to be charitable is unreasonable. The administration should leave the market place to resolve the conflicting interests. Unless of course there are cartels forming, in which case there are enough laws already in existence that will take care of this problem.

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  • Well, I wonder if we put this in a larger context if it makes more sense. That context being the whitespace issue which looks like Google & MSN & Obama working together to provide nationwide free WiFi as an infrastructure. While not blazing speeds, it would be adequate for most internet usage and would provide access to much more of America and remove the digital divide some what.

    As much of jerks as the telcoms have been to their customers, they still are going to be taking a hit by this, unless they can provide some benefit to customers above and beyond their free competition. There only real benefit would be speed. In the end, this is going to make these guys do what they should have been doing, be competitive and offer a truly modern internet connection service with ultra high speeds that other 3rd world nations already enjoy. Maybe it will cause them to treat their customers like human beings as well.

    So to me, I’m not surprised by this, in fact, I think it’s going to be a necessity if we are going to be offering up basic internet for free. I think it will be about tiered speeds, not tiered ports or services.

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  • Richard Bobinski

    The postal analogy used to illustrate this conflict is like comparing music downloads to copying casette tapes to share with friends. Yes I pay more for overnight delivery because resources, beyond the usual, are necessary for its timeliness. I remember reading about this issue back in ’06 and its fun (and easy) to predict the future outcome-just follow the money.
    Peace out

  • Thanks, Andy for that update. This is an interesting story to say the least. While we all focus on Google, I wonder if Microsoft is a bit more willing to say that they’ll take an advantage if they can get it. They have not figured out a way yet to dent Google and this could be something where they let Google take all the flak on the issue then ride the coat tails if it truly happens.

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  • @Richard. True. The end result will leave a money trail… My wife did a ton of post about this which can be read here: (scroll down, there’s quite a few headlines.)

  • bill

    Postal service analogy?

    We already have a choice of dial-up, hi-speed, DSL, cable or T-1.

    So now we pay for one of those and we can get free install-cds in the mail again like the dummies who signed up for AOL?

    Pay by the hour? No thanks.

    Let’s keep the net neutral.

  • Net Neutrality is a myth. It’s just a way for large companies like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Amazon, and others to increase their profits at consumer expense by forcing us all to pay higher ISP connection fees to underwrite the infrastructure they don’t want to pay for directly.

    That some of these companies have caved in and starting buying high speed channels is a great thing for consumers. We can pay for the infrastructure upgrades by choosing to pay for the more expensive services.

    That’s a win-win scenario for the large content providers, the ISPs, and consumers who do NOT want to use those expensive services.

    Does that hurt new competitors who don’t have the funding to pay for high access channels? Maybe, maybe not.

    Necessity is the mother of invention, and there is no reason for why people who want to participate in the high-speed marketplace should expect a free ride from consumers. Be efficient, figure out new ways to deliver quality service efficiently, and you’ll have a fair shot at making a profit.

    The consumers should NOT have to pay for services they neither want nor use, and I applaud the ISPs who stood up to the so-called Net Neutrality advocates and refused to cave in to their demands for protecting consumer interests.

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  • Net neutrality really hurts me, I cant believe that this is still being pushed.

  • Thanks for this updation.