Is Net Neutrality Down for the Count?

I’ve written about the importance of Net neutrality to small businesses and entrepreneurs before, but this time I’ll let Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, explain the problem to you:

I think the people who talk about dismantling — threatening — Net neutrality don’t appreciate how important it has been for us to have an independent market for productivity and for applications on the Internet.

Now, if we compare what you can get into your home with earliest modems, it’s maybe 1,000 times as fast. So that market has been very competitive, very successful.

And I think we wouldn’t have seen this explosion in the exciting, tremendous diversity of the kind of things you see on the Web now. So in the future, obviously, we expect to see many more things. We expect to see, very importantly, television streaming over the Internet, which is going to make a very exciting market in television content and maybe entertainment, maybe educational ideas.

The people deploying these things rely on the fact that the Internet is sitting there waiting to carry whatever they can dream up.

There was a very good reason why the monopolistic AT&T was dismantled in 1982, and yet the separate parts have nonetheless found a way to reassemble themselves. The latest severed appendage to attempt a crawl back home is Bell South, under a proposed acquisition by the new AT&T that was created when “Baby Bell” SBC kicked off the homecoming game by acquiring “Ma Bell” in the most ironic corporate acquisition since AOL bought Time Warner.

The problem is, these two companies have been the most outspoken about creating a tiered Internet, where those who pay (beyond basic hosting and internet service) get preferential speed and access. Plus, the combination of the two will result in a DSL monopoly in 23 states, and sets a precedent for the cable companies to follow the tiered Internet approach soon to be established by AT&T (barring government intervention).

Guess where that leaves us and all our efforts in the social media space?

Liz Strauss has been following this issue from the standpoint of the small business practically all year, and it’s not too late to stop AT&T’s acquisition of Bell South due to pending FCC approval.

Head over to Successful Blog for all the details on what we can do to fight back.

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Comments

  1. Great piece, Brian. Thanks for letting folks know what’s going on. It’s so important.

  2. Brian,

    It seems like Net Neutrality is mostly dead, but as Miracle Max says, “there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”

    My understanding is that we (US citizens) are currently living w/o Net Neutrality, as it ended in August. Some Net Neutrality critics may argue that the sky has not fallen, so please drop this subject and move on.

    I would argue that there is currently no reason for cable co’s and telecoms to rock the boat, because the Senate will plan on taking up a new bill after the elections. Maine’s own Senator Olympia Snowe is co-sponsoring a bill that would toughen the language protecting Net Neutrality. Until that vote happens, it’s in these quasi-monopolies best interest to not do anything drastic and stir up the ire of the grass roots organizations.

    Net Neutrality is good for small business. It allows us to compete on a level-playing field where we can succeed or fail based on the quality of our products, services and ideas…and not on whether we can afford the tiered costs from a cable company, or afford to partner with a billion-dollar telecom.

    Cable companies and telecoms should not be allowed to determine which information gets preferred treatment, since they are often competing in this arena. It would be like allowing Major League Baseball’s pitchers call their own balls and strikes.

  3. William Smith and Ed Whitacre were most certainly sticking their big toes in and testing the water of public opinion when they offered their opinions on “who the pipes belong to.” Maybe the reaction was worse than they thought it would be.

    But I have to believe that they’ll do it unless preemptively stopped. Then it comes down to whether the Feds jump in with something smart in response or not.

    The only other solution comes in the form of the savior GoogleNet, and then we’re really in trouble.

  4. I agree, Brian. They have no reason not to do it — if the public will accept a cable TV model of the Internet, why not?

  5. I haven’t made up my mind on “net neutrality” mostly because I don’t trust government regulations. I would like to ask the proponents of net neutrality what they think of QOS? From my understanding to do proper IPTV, you need QOS. That breaks net neutrality. All packets are not created equal anymore. My guess is that “net neutrality” legislation doesn’t take this into account and would actually stifle innovation in this area because carriers would be slow to add the infrastructure since they couldn’t quickly monetize it. That and other unforseen unintended consequences are why I’m leary of this type of legislation.

  6. I share your skepticism about Congress getting it right, especially after Ted Stevens dazzled us with his in-depth understanding of how the Internet works.

    But, what is the alternative? If the US broadband market fragments into a tiered system to any significant degree, we lose — both as individual business people and the entire US as an economic world player.

  7. Whatever legally acceptable business model comes out of the Net Neutrality debate, you can be sure it will see widespread acceptance. Whether that be tiered or not, countries like mine will basically follow the US’ lead. Thus, if you guys lose, we Filipinos and a lot of other people lose too. So please, make your politicians see the light!

  8. Well, I was just at Liz’s site getting caught up and read her latest NetNeutrality segment. Then I go to check in on my next blog in my favorites – yours, and I get your perspective on the topic. I found that amusing.

    The Net really needs to remain a regulation and government-free zone.

  9. We at the Hands Off coalition agree with Char’s assertion that the net should remain a regulation and government-free zone. Placing the future of the Internet into the hands of Congress will undoubtedly result in one of the most cumbersome and drawn-out legal debacles in modern history and would drop the Net into a mire of legalese from which it might never recover. As tech guru George Gilder recently noted, “‘[N]et neutrality’ is a concept at once so vague and demanding that its penumbra could be litigated in fifty states and up-and-down the federal court system until all our Internet traffic has to be diverted through Seoul and Beijing merely to avoid lawyer spam. By any name, ‘net neutrality’ means price controls on some of the most complex many-sided markets in all industry…” Let’s keep the Internet truly free by saying no to preemptive regulation and unnecessary intervention.

  10. The government has to pretend they’re on the public’s side sometimes. A monopoly doesn’t. Their one and only goal is to maximize profits. They’re a parasite that keeps the host alive just enough to keep feeding.

  11. You’re right that a companies only goal is to maximize profits, because if that wasn’t the goal, they’d go out of business. The part of the equation that is missing is that there is competition unless government regulates it out of existence. Bad companies go away. Bad laws stay on the books forever.

  12. Then why does AT&T simply refuse to go away? :)

  13. That’s the beauty of monopolies from the business standpoint. They can’t be competed away, so they stay on the books forever. :-)

  14. I assuming by the smileys that you are kidding, but for conspiracy theorists and those with socialistic tendencies, I’ll explain. First, there are no “natural monopolies”. Unless the government steps in, there is always, always, the option of another company with a competing or disruptive technology. The airlines and oil companies, as a whole, are monopolies because of the regulations that surround their industries. Microsoft is not a monopoly, contrary to popular belief. They have a very large sway on the industry, but people have viable alternatives. In the 90s they were assumed to be a monopoly and if the government had regulated the OS industry they really would have become one because regulation not only restrict the intended target, they create a barrier to entry because new entrants must be able to satisfy said regulations.

    Obviously AT&T exists in name only. It’s not anywhere near what the company was pre-breakup. As for monopolies that stay on the books forever, I’d like one named.

  15. Brian,

    My smilie was intended to convey hyperbole. If anything, I lean libertarian. The government gets involved in a lot more than it should.

    You say Microsoft isn’t a monopoly because there are viable alternatives. In the geographic area where you live, there is no viable alternative to your local telecom or cable provider. A disruptive technology may replace them, but the advent of disruptive technologies can’t be predicted.

    Network providers already charge providers based on bandwidth, and users based on bandwidth. They collect coming in and going out. You want more bandwidth, you pay more. Given the increase in network speed to date, I think time will take care of the problems of VOIP and video.

  16. Great post Brian, definitely food for thought.

    I just saw something about this recently on PBS, hosted by Bill Moyers titled “The Net @ Risk”.

    They usually re-run these kind of programs or you can check it out online at…

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/net/index.html