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Net Neutrality or Fiber Utility? April 7, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, climate, technology.
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I’m sure you’ve seen the appeals court decision against net neutrality, or rather against the FCC’s right to enforce neutrality. My first bet? This will go to the Supreme Court. My second bet? The Supremes will uphold the appeals court decision rather than expanding the powers of the FCC. My third bet? There is going to be an anti-trust suit against Comcast.

I like the concept of net neutrality, I think most people without stock in Comcast, Verizon, etc. do. The internet was born neutral, and grew to its present awesomeness in a neutral state. One gets the feeling that abolishing neutrality, or even introducing a little tilt, would stifle further growth and development in some way. Which would be a bad thing. The internet is the most efficient economic engine the world has. It is responsible for a large fraction of the economic growth in the Western world in the last decade. With the global economy being what it is, now would be an especially bad time for this engine to blow a valve.

I think a free competitive market would choose a neutral net. Just using the specifics of this case as an example. If you were a fan of BitTorrent, and Comcast either blocked BT or significantly degraded its performance but Verizon did not, which carrier would you choose? Exactly. Especially considering that a carrier that preferred its own content over a particular third party content would likely make the same preference against any perceived competitor. Why isn’t this happening now? Because in many places there isn’t real competition between carriers. Multiple fiber grids are redundant and resource inefficient. We don’t have multiple water grids or electrical grids. I know that fiber is less capital and physical plant intensive than water and electrical, which is why there is competition in some places, e.g., where I live. But maybe redundancy and competition is not necessary to create the right environment for a neutral net. Maybe what is needed is a little vertical trust-busting.

High bandwidth data is essentially a utility, like water, and electricity. It is slightly different in that it is differentiated by bandwidth–by the way, I hate the term high-speed internet, it’s high-bandwidth internet, not high speed internet, individual bits don’t travel faster, just more of them arrive in parallel or they arrive at shorter intervals, when I hear someone advertize high-speed internet, I want to scream “really? your internet uses something faster than light? you have tachyon internet?–but it’s a utility. It should be regulated like a utility, and should charge by usage modes, usage amount, quality of service, or some combination thereof. Ideally, it should provide a menu of pricing plans like a telephone service provider. Actually, it would have to because it will include telephone or something like it as one of the services.

Content provision should simply be decoupled from the fiber utility. If and when this battle continues, and a case of Comcast v. State of Pennsylvania comes before John Roberts and the Supremes, one possible–even likely result–is that the gang of 9 will forcibly break up Comcast into Comcast-fiber and Comcast-programming. Just like they broke up Ma Bell 20-some years ago.

P.S. Read this.

P.P.S. Really, crap like this is much more annoying than North Korea’s empty nuclear threats. I’m surprised KJ didn’t sentence the man to 2,000 years of hard labor and a fine of one billion jillion kazillion won. Or maybe to death by sharks with frikking lasers. Does the republic of Il have a single ally in the universe? The republic of Ahmadinejad? Can’t we get international concensus to do something here? We invaded Iraq over less!

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