Dan Berninger, senior analyst at Tier1 Research, has an interesting take on the Net Neutrality debate. He notes that the Bells are free to limit people’s access to content via discriminatory throttling of traffic from less-privileged providers (i.e. tiny bloggers like me) in favor of large corporate providers willing pay the toll. But the Bells can’t call this "internet access."
Selling private networks as Internet access amounts to false advertising of the type prosecuted by state AG’s and the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission Act requires advertising be truthful and non-deceptive. Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims….
Calling a service Internet access means providing full connectivity. The continuously expanding Internet presently reaches about 400 million computers even before considering end user devices. AT&T and Verizon may believe the owners of these computers should pay a toll for the privilege of reaching end users, but they still need to demonstrate sufficient value to justify these tolls. Any attempt at enforcement of gatekeeper status will inevitably leave their customers with limited connectivity to large swaths of the Internet not unlike people stuck behind the Great Firewall of China.
He notes that the Bells have a long history of fighting the roll out of open standard communications tools, from their resistance to 56K modems to opposing the provision of DSL and now fighting against municipal broadband and wifi. So it’s no wonder that the incumbents would be opposing measures that require them to provide non-discriminatory access to the Net. The difference now is that the Bells are marketing this as "value added" service, rather than a limitation on access.
Berninger is right that these efforts by Telcos to monetize bits won’t break the net. But it will set America further and further behind, as American consumers pay more and more for less and less service. It’s no wonder that much of the developed world is kicking our ass in connectivity and cost. Pretty soon we’ll start seeing brain drain headed toward Korea and Denmark as those who understand the value of fat pipes and open standards realize that the US is where data goes to die.