The campaign for a two-tier Internet

Can you hear that sound? It’s the sound of the telecom troops stepping up their lobbying effort on Capitol Hill in Washingon, and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. And the subject of this effort? The “need” for a two-tiered Internet. The telcos don’t call it that, of course, but that’s what it will amount to. As Rob Hyndman points out, this “war on net neutrality” could be the issue of the year for the tech sector.

As so eloquently stated by AT&T CEO Ed “Google better pay for access to our pipes” Whitacre and BellSouth CTO Bill “pay up or watch your download crawl” Smith, telcos in the U.S. and Canada want the ability to structure their networks so that their own applications and data — streaming video to your cellphone, for example — work faster and better than others. (Om Malik notes that the FCC seems to favour the telcos).

Remember the idea of a “common carrier,” where phone companies provided networks that anyone could make use of, in return for regulated rates of return? That’s history. It’s easy to see why the telcos are making this pitch — they don’t get the nice rates of return any more, and their legacy business is being eaten away by low-cost VOIP services, so you can see why they’d want to rig their networks for their own benefit. But that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to.

For an eloquent explanation of why losing “network neutrality” would be bad, see Vint “father of the Internet” Cerf’s submission here. And Canadian columnist and technology-law expert Michael Geist has written a nice column on the subject.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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