The March 20th issue of the New Yorker has a nice "Talk of the Town" piece on the net neutrality debate called "Net Losses." In it they contrast competing visions of what the Internet is to become:
Ultimately, Internet providers hope to manage the Internet the way a
supermarket owner manages his store, charging companies “slotting fees”
in exchange for better shelf space, or the way bookstores charge
publishers extra in order to have books placed on tables at the front
of the store. Up to this point, the Internet has been operated more or
less like a public utility. All bits of data have been treated
similarly, just as the highway system doesn’t allow trucks from some
companies to go faster than others, and the electrical grid does not
deliver reliable power to some customers and erratic service to others.
It’s a nice analogy. Although I wonder if regular folks who have become accustomed to the "better internet" offered by AOL will see any real problem with the Supermarket model.
For me, it seems easy to combat the "free rider" complaints of the telecoms. No one is free riding — in fact American consumers are getting gouged with the highest prices for the slowest connection speeds in the Western world. Google and Youtube.com aren’t free riding either — they have to pay server costs and connectivity costs just like everyone else. And they are pushing the content that is encouraging people to sign up for the more expensive broadband access, driving the market with content and ease-of-use rather than sponging off of other companies pipes.
Meanwhile Senator Ron Wyden (D-CA) has introduced legislation to preserve the net neutrality of internet service provided by cable and telecom companies. From his press release he states:
"It’s wrong to create
an information superhighway that’s strewn with discriminatory
hurdles,” said Wyden. “Today, I have introduced legislation
to stop the powerful interests who control access to the Internet
from picking winners and losers on the Internet. This bill is for consumers, innovators and small businesses – it’s
all about equal access for everyone: the same access, the same
content, for the same price.”
It’s nice seeing some Congressional action on this, as unlikely as it is that this bill will get out of committee.