Advanced Television

Nothing neutral about Net Neutrality

August 27, 2010

Net Neutrality is, ironically, a matter on which nearly no one is neutral.

When the Web was young the idea of equal access for all content and service providers was logical and easily accommodated. Then came video, which was magnitudes more bandwidth hungry than what had gone before. But there was still no question of restricting access; YouTube was born and wherever you were in the world (more or less) you could watch it and upload to it. Of course, if your provider still thought broadband was 256Kb it would take a while, but the access – and the equality of its poor quality – was there.

Today developed markets have faster and ever growing bandwidth speeds. Nonetheless HD and proliferation of services still puts them under pressure. But the trade off between access and speed isn’t really the point. The point is video services being provided over the open Web that compete with managed services provided by the owner of the Net-work that reaches the viewers homes.

Although network providers often dress it up in arguments about quality of service and the capacity of existing technology, their real beef is; ‘I invested heavily in this infrastructure and I monetize it by selling packaged services across it, now third parties I have no relationship with use the network (heavily) to reach customers connected to it – they are eating my lunch, in my restaurant, and it isn’t fair.’ They might add that they don’t want to stop them (though they do really), but they do want to charge them for guaranteeing a service level, or ‘manage’ them so they don’t use ‘excessive’ bandwidth – which  pretty guarantees they will need a special service level.

Open Netters say this defies a basic tenet of the Web and shouldn’t happen, full stop. Others say existing service providers should embrace OTT services and make a virtue of delivering them efficiently, maybe even charge their customers for that, but – on principle – they shouldn’t pay for their service’s access.

Who would have thought the first Open Netter to bend would be the ultimate Open Netter, the company that has benefitted most from free and ubiquitous access to every computer screen. But Google it is that, through its ‘framework’ agreement with Verizon, has crossed the Rubicon and allowed that some services can be categorized and carried – and charged for – differently.

Of course any and every service and individual should have access to the World Wide Web both to transmit and receive at a minimum serviceable level. Anything less is censorship. But equality of speed for every service on every Network, no matter who owns the service and who owns the Network? Come on.

Categories: Blogs, Broadband, Nick Snow, Regulation