From comments made by Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert (that's him) during a keynote speech at Spring VON 2006 yesterday, we can see a "kinder and gentler" strategy emerging from the efforts of the telecom and broadband cable monopolists to oppose "net neutrality" rules that would grant unfettered access to all Internet content providers who seek traversal across their networks.
Whether via a master p.r. campaign planned in the shadows, a consensus message generated by commonality of views, or some factor of both, we are seeing the monopolists attempt to:
Tactic 1: Mute the combative, "nuts" message about net neutrality sent out by AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre into one where any surcharges broadband access providers might wish to charge for bandwidth hog content will be positioned as cooperative efforts with honored content partners to guarantee seamless experiences for those content partners end-users.
"Would this give some content providers an advantage over others?," Notebaert asked the crowd during his keynote. "Well, yeah. We're all trying to provide a little bit of differentiation for a competitive edge. That's what business is about."
My colleague Marguerite Reardon notes that Notebaert was careful not to name names, but he implied that companies such as Amazon and Google, which are lobbying Congress to impose new laws guaranteeing Net neutrality, have already approached Qwest about lining up such deals.
"It's possible that (these companies) would like to have differentiated service," he said. "And if you have enough money, we can make a lot of things happen."
Internet Telephony pioneer Jeff Pulver, under whose oversight the VON shows are produced, calls this tactic "legalized extortion." I think at the least, it is just another manifestation of pretty much any CEO's reflexive distaste for regulation and love of fees collected from the vulnerable as a revenue-enhancement tool for the bottom line.
This ties in with Tactic 2: Fight net neutrality legislation on the basis that it is unnecessary. After all, it is being implied, the promise of these partnerships shows that broadband providers are interested in positive steps, not extreme countermeasures such as slowing down or blocking broadband content from providers who won't pay up;and:
Tactic 3: Portray net neutrality legislation as a regulatory solution that will discourage capital expenditures on broadband service expansion by tying the hands of the broadband providers to invest in research to make their networks faster and better.
We're already seeing this message emerge from such groups as the U.S. Internet Industry Association, which refers to net neutrality as a "phantom problem."
Not unexpectedly, we are seeing the analysts buy into this as well. Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett says that mandated net neutrality would "likely trigger a host of unintended consequences. Mandated 'Net Neutrality' would further sour Wall Street's taste for broadband infrastructure investments, making it increasingly difficult to sustain the necessary capital investments."
To which I say is just code for saying that not allowing the broadband duopolist fee machine to go amok would likely cost these companies a revenue stream they would dearly like to add as a boost to the bottom line.