Net neutrality means don’t tread on the Internet!

(posted at The Jeff Pulver Blog)

Guest Blogger: Daniel Berninger – "Net neutrality means don't tread on the Internet!"

Companies selling Internet access argue for property rights as the basis for unwinding long standing net neutrality. However, the companies deriving revenues from Internet access do not own the Internet any more than a company making money from a port owns the ocean. No one entity public or private can own the Internet as in the case of an ocean. An Internet access provider does not assume ownership of the content of communication transiting its network any more than a port assumes ownership of packages loaded onto ships. The Internet access provider like a shipper can assess risks in the sense of whether a package contains liquids, perishables, or hazardous material, but customers reserve the right make decisions about the nature of transport. The telephone network implementation of network neutrality known as common carrier rules prevent AT&T from discriminating against particular users. They prevent Verizon from asking about the purpose of a call before connecting it.

Net neutrality prevents discrimination by limiting billing for transport to generic measures of performance and capacity rather than the nature of the user or usage. Neutrality allows for Internet enabled alternatives to monopolist voice and video providers that also happen to dominate Internet access, so the desire to end neutrality, even if it leads to the death of the Internet, comes as no surprise. Limits on business models pursued by Verizon or AT&T will get criticized as socialism, but government has never escaped the need to assert non-discrimination principles to facilitate commerce. The issues surrounding the present net neutrality debate have arisen with different labels since the Roman Empire. The desire to discriminate against particular users or usage as the means to defeat competition or other nefarious purpose arises in communication (telegraph, telephone, and Internet); transportation (railroads, highways, taxi cabs, and buses); and supporting facilities (hotels, restaurants, gas stations.)

The magnitude of alarm arises from the lack of market forces to discipline anti-customer activities of dominant providers of broadband in the US. A market has to exist for market forces to work. The idea of a telco taking kickbacks to distort Internet access experience would not present much of a problem if alternative suppliers existed. Changing Internet access providers in the US involves moving to a different state. Craig McCaw's wireless startup Clearwire implements a non-neutral policy in a financial arrangement that gives Bell Canada's VoIP offer special status while requiring that non-affiliated VoIP companies submit to certification. Ed Whitacre's AT&T announced a special Internet access offer for VoIP companies. The deal conveniently preserves the usage based access fees in exchange for some undefined quality of service benefit. AT&T's plans represent more of a problem than Clearwire's, because AT&T can enforce its certification demands.

Read the rest of Daniel Berninger's blogpost on The Jeff Pulver Blog.

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