Net Neutrality non-compromise

Senator Ted Stevens (R. - Alaska) has introduced a "compromise" on net neutrality. It concedes the carriers' ability to charge different rates based on the kind of data packet and source. In short, it's not net neutral.

Here is the simple explanation what net neutrality is: Any data packet will be equal to every other data packet, regardless of what kind of data it carries or where it came from.

Ted Stevens has been to the zooSenator Ted Stevens (R. - Alaska), according to Reuters this week will introduce language into his network neutrality bill, The Communications Act of 2006, an amalgam of bills on the topic of network access, that calls for user's freedom to access to any site or Web service but does not prohibit pricing for that access on a different basis. Essentially, it's the carrier's position, that they should be able to charge what they want when they want. As I've explained, this will squelch innovation, because Web users will constantly be confronted with changing fees for access as they surf.

The Net thrived on "unmetered usage," that is the user could go anywhere and do anything they wanted without incurring extra fees. America Online and other metered services got stomped into the historical dust because they tried to impose extra fees for more usage and people simply went elsewhere.

The carriers are being incredibly short-sighted in this debate. They are seeking to grab a share of data providers' revenue rather than encouraging more bandwidth use by home and office network users who, if they find their connection is too slow, will pay for more throughput. For example, my 3 Mbps DSL is looking a little slow to me as I use more video services. I'd be happy to pay for a faster connection all the time rather than be nickel and dimed as I use services the carrier deems "too bandwidth intensive" for their bottom line. 

And, in fact, that is the way the Net has grown: People demand faster full-time connections because they don't want to plan their network usage to avoid additional fees.

Instead, the carriers have decided to test the waters of a failed model, charging by the packet for some services and not others, treating data unqually and injecting uncertainty into user pricing not just for their services but for virtually everything on the Web. Senator Stevens (above right, who appears to be shaking hands with his wife at the National Zoo—yes, that's a zinger) is just spinning language that appears to promote "freedom" when all it does is institutionalize a lousy business model.

The net neutrality debate has become a hairball of competing interests. The simple fact is that we should not be making a law that grants carriers the ability to arbitrarily price services based on the type of traffic they decide is profitable. The principle of net neutrality is straightforward and market-proven, that users will pay a fair price for bandwidth and add additional capacity as they need it when they opt for faster services. The market-savvy law will favor the citizen who can make their own decisions based on their need for information and network performance, not the carriers' desire to manage their bottom line.

Network neutrality is customers in charge. It's that simple. Don't be fooled by "compromises" like Senator Stevens'.