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Rebuttal To The Washington Post

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-06-13

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The Washington Post Online published an editorial Monday seeking to debunk pro-Net Neutrality arguments, erring on the side of non-regulation. Point by point, this column begs to differ.

From the WP editorial:

More than 60 percent of Zip codes in the United States are served by four or more broadband providers that compete to give consumers what they want.

Here we begin a numbers game. Free Press reports that major cable companies and DSL providers control 98 percent of the residential and small-business broadband market. Other providers have only come on the scene recently because the FCC required telecommunications companies to temporarily open up their networks to competition - a requirement with a sunset clause.

But broadband over copper, over the air, or over power lines matters little at this juncture, especially now that we are years behind other countries due to telecom waste of tax reprieves, as the real money in the future will be in fiber. Verizon plans to extend fiber-to-the-premises, the last mile of broadband penetration, to 6 or 7 million homes this year. They are part of a larger push to control those fiber networks, and by FCC approval, will control them 20 years down the road. Other broadband providers will not be able to compete with the speeds fiber will offer, a requirement for the IPTV demands the telecoms have been citing.

…the Internet is the province of experimenters and hobbyists because creating your own Web site is cheap and easy. Thanks to technology, the Internet will always be a relatively democratic medium with low barriers to entry.

It is quite presumptuous to say the Internet will always be democratic and cheap. What safeguard is in place? It is cheap now and has been cheap, but the low barriers to entry are no guarantee. Even Bell South has expressed its desire (in a WP article no less) to raise the barriers by setting up a system whereby it can charge Yahoo! more to load faster than Google, and to hold VoIP service ransom by charging VoIP companies extra for higher quality delivery. So what happens to the experimenters and hobbyists when they can't afford to upload their services? Nothing, that's what.

Cyber-upstarts already face barriers: The incumbents have brand recognition and invest in tricks to make their sites load faster. The extra barrier created by a lack of net neutrality would probably be small because the pipe owners know that consumers want access to innovators.

All businesses face barriers and the open nature of the Internet has removed many of them. Using the phrase "would probably" in an argument is again presumptuous, another word for "speculative" which has been the buzz word used by anti-Net Neutrality proponents to debunk the pro side. It seems rather difficult to debunk speculation with speculation. It also assumes that consumers in general are aware of new innovation. If innovators have a more difficult time presenting those innovations, how is the consumer to know that all new Net innovations are not corporate innovations?

If you want innovation on the Internet, you need better pipes: ones that are faster, less susceptible to hackers and spammers, or smarter in ways that nobody has yet thought of. The lack of incentives for pipe innovation is more pressing than the lack of incentives to create new Web services… You can see it, too, in the fact that U.S. broadband infrastructure lags behind that of East Asia and Europe.

The incentive for better "pipes" is already present in two ways: one, as mentioned earlier, is that control of those pipes will be very lucrative; two, the incentives to build them were given ten years ago through the Telecommunications Act of 1996 - tax incentives totaling $200 billion to bring the U.S. to those levels by this year. We have not reached the level of broadband access of a dozen other countries precisely because those arguing against Net Neutrality have done nothing with taxpayer money provided. Subscription fees, taxes, and higher bandwidth fees that will ultimately be passed on to consumers will be the result. So consumers will pay in three ways now instead of the two they were already paying? What incentives (or history) does the public have to trust cable and phone companies with a precious medium?

I should quote the same column I'm trying to argue with: "Would instant messaging or Internet telephony have taken off if their inventors had had to plead with broadband firms to carry them?"

Ironically, a non-neutral net would accelerate the spread of zippy broadband that can deliver movies, allowing hobbyists with camcorders to take on Hollywood studios. The neutrality advocates who criticize corporatized cable TV should welcome that.

One: "zippy" broadband is an inevitability with or without Net Neutrality.

Two: that hobbyist you speak of will not be able to take on Hollywood if he cannot afford the tier on which Hollywood is broadcasting.

The weakest aspect of the neutrality case is that the dangers it alleges are speculative. It seems unlikely that broadband providers will degrade Web services that people want and far more likely that they will use non-neutrality to charge for upgrading services that depend on fast and reliable delivery, such as streaming high-definition video or relaying data from heart monitors. If this proves wrong, the government should step in. But it should not burden the Internet with preemptive regulation.

Concepts that are "speculative," just to clear it up, often include phrasing like "seems unlikely," "far more likely," if this proves wrong, the government should," and "would probably." It is interesting also that the other side of this debate often assumes (that's another word for "speculates") that with Net Neutrality regulation innovation will cease, there will be no faster internet, businesses will fail, consumers will pay more, and people will die because they won't be able to get their IPTV health services.

One side of this argument lives on the downside of the slippery slope. The other, asks only for a guarantee that the fears of the community do not come to fruition, which is actually in line with more Thomas Paine libertarian sentiments expressing that the government only interfere when the protection of its citizens is necessary.

Speaking of "preemptive regulation," is that more like AT&T bending over for the NSA to preempt terrorism, or more like the hundreds of millions of telecom money spent lobbying Congress to preempt Net Neutrality?

Major end points:

· Some of the greatest minds on the planet (Vinton Cerf, Tim Berners Lee and others) + huge nonpartisan consumer effort: pro-net neutrality

· Telecoms, cable companies, and Congressmen (all who profit without net neutrality): against it

· Telcos have expressed the so-called speculative or hypothetical desire to limit competition and innovation.

· Telcos have a history of monopolistic practices, overcharging, government influence, and tax money squandering.

· Only those who can pay the tolls will be able to reduce their barriers to entry.

· This regulation is a protection of citizens, which is in line with libertarian functions of government, to only interfere when it is in the citizen's best interest.

· What happens now is not as important as what happens 20 years from now, when major broadband conglomerates completely control access to fiber optic networks, and those on the losing side of the digital divide will have to accept early 21st century speeds over copper, power lines, and airwaves, none of which will be able to handle the IPTV traffic the telecoms are claiming require new networks. IPTV will require new networks, fiber ones, which they will own.


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About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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