George Ou just posted another blog regarding Net neutrality, and I felt that the time was right for me to weigh in on this issue as well. His point is valid; why is it reasonable for a content provider to block or grant access, based upon who carries the last mile, but the last mile is not allowed to block or grant access? It isn't reasonable at all. Even worse, let's say that ESPN is able to extort a dollar per thousand users from my ISP. I know that my ISP is not going to start offering "premium broadband," they are going to pass that cost onto me, regardless of whether or not I personally view ESPN's premium content only.
I am also quite disturbed at what this implies about Internet users. Web sites have been trying for years to derive revenue stream from memberships, micro payments on a per-view basis, and other techniques. Thanks to the availability of free alternatives, no Internet user is will to pay for content, regardless of how much better it may be than the free alternatives (example: Encyclopedia Britannica vs. Wikipedia). "Adult content," some specialist niche content sites, and content where the access comes with a paid membership in a non-Web entity (such as access to The Economist's Web site, provided with a subscription to the magazine) seems to be the only way a company can get a consumer to pony up cash. The fact that they need to extort the ISPs in order to generate revenues from content that cost them millions of dollars to generate is sad.
You can thank sites like YouTube for this situation, as far as I am concerned. YouTube is quickly becoming a giant, public Tivo. I own a television, but do not have cable TV. However, I am sure that any TV show I may want to watch is on YouTube right now for free, copyrights be damned. If I cannot get it through YouTube, I can find it on a Gnutella network or BitTorrent. So the content providers are getting ripped off. First, they are losing viewers on the TV channel to the Internet, which is OK with me. Then, when they try to compete by putting their content on the Internet, often ad supported, they get ripped off and that content (or their TV content) gets put up on YouTube or P2P'ed, so the company cannot even generate ad dollars on their Web site.
The most dangerous man in the world is a man with nothing left to lose, memories of what he used to have, and his back up against the wall. This is the position that the traditional content providers are finding themselves in. And they are getting more and more desperate. ESPN's attempted power play is not the move of a clear thinking, rational company. It smacks of desperation. It is like having a heated discussion with someone and they cannot budge you from your position, so they hit you in the head out of frustration.
I have a problem with "Net Neutrality" legislation on a number of levels, but the biggest one is that definitions are completely impossible. How do you define what is considered an ISP or even "the Internet"? Is my cell phone part of "the Internet" if I turn on my WAP browser? Is my home PC considered a content provider, simply because I have a static, public IP, a domain name pointing to it, and a BSD server on it doling out Web pages? Is an Internet anonymizing service considered a backbone provider because they act as a pass through for packets? If I follow the RFC for TCP/IP using carrier pigeons on the physical layer, are the "flying rats" New York now part of "the cloud" and subject to regulation? What if they refuse to fly to certain locations to deliver the packets?
Any good law needs to have clear, understandable definitions. Period. When grey area, loopholes, wiggle room, and fudge factor exist in legislature, the people who suffer are those who do not have the resources to hire lawyers to interpret and develop justifications. That means you and me. Look at tax laws. I have the pleasure of paying full income tax for my bracket with only minor deductions. But a major company pays no taxes, because they hired a lawyer to base them out of the
"Net neutrality" legislation, thanks to the impossibility of ever writing it right, does nothing to protect you or me, or the small entrepreneur or anyone else, and will simply be sidestepped by any major, "evil" corporation. Furthermore, paying a premium for upgraded service is a time honored tradition. FedEx charges me more for next day delivery than for "best effort" delivery. Toll roads have no traffic lights. Airlines charge more for non-stop flight than for flights with layovers. And so on and so on.
Thanks, but no thanks. I would rather see a total lack of regulations here and let the market place sort this out. If ESPN (or any other content provider) wants to try to force ISPs to pay for their content, I suspect it will fail. And if ISPs try blocking or limiting access to certain content providers will not probably succeed either. Customer hate cable TV packages with a passion. If ISPs try to move to the same formula, they will fail too. The marketplace has already made it clear that as much as they want premium content online, they are unwilling to pay for it. The marketplace simply does not care where the originator of the charge is, they are too accustomed and happy with paying one, simple, ISP bill and having full, unlimited access to accept anything else.
Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.