Who Controls the Internet? Published 2006-04-28

There has been a great deal of discussion over a bill coming out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Broadly speaking, the bill attempts to provide a framework where by those who own the pathways by which Internet traffic travels will have more control over the traffic. The concern is that sites that can pay for it will get better and faster pathways for their content. Telco and cable companies (those with the pathways) argue that this is good for consumers who will be able to download content (e.g. movies) faster.

Let the market dictate which content providers we have access to? NO, let the market dictate which content we consume. We should have equal access to all content. Take a look at FM Radio. It is expensive to get a license to broadcast and as a result our radios are rendered useless. With the exception of publicly supported radio stations, the Los Angeles airways are full of crud. Then came the Internet and streaming audio. Today, I can listen to stations from around the world and download podcasts made by Craig in his car during his lunch hour. Will AT&T afford Craig the same pathways as Clear Channel?

Another analogy would be the cable television industry. As the cable companies own the pathways by which the content comes to our home, they have control over what we watch. For the longest time I had been fighting for my cable company to offer one a particular station (ok, it was a soccer channel). Every time I called in, the cable folks were polite and said that they would take down my request but change was not going to happen until enough people requested the same station. I was fortunate (though my wife may argue) and enough folks requested the station. However, my friend who only lives a few miles away but has a different cable company cannot get the same station. I know there are many other stations out there that we are not getting. I have come to accept that the cable companies determine which stations we can receive, but I am not willing to let them (or the telcos) have the same control over Internet content.

The concern is that large companies will be able to afford the price of the more expensive pathways creating barriers to entry for new or smaller companies. I think United Streaming is a great resource for teachers. Their library of videos and images can really help the innovative teacher create unique and effective lessons. United Streaming is part of Discovery Communications (e.g. The Discovery Channel), so they are positioned to be able to afford to pay to get on Verizon's fast network. But what about some start-up that is producing the next generation learning-centric content? They will not be competing on the same playing field as far as the ability to deliver their content. What's more, should Warner Cable be able to block delivery of United Streaming content in favor of their own (Time Warner) content?

The Internet has been a great place for innovation, but without network neutrality − non-discrimination toward content providers, future innovation seems threatened.



rob banning said...

There is an interesting video from Public Knowledge that helps explain the idea behind Net Neutrality.

Click here to watch video.