Telecoms and the toll-road gambit

I wasn’t sure whether to write anything about the “network neutrality” issue, in part because my friend Rob Hyndman has done such a good job of covering the subject – particularly an overview of the current state of affairs in his latest post – but as usual I couldn’t resist 🙂 Verizon has reportedly filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission that say it plans to use as much as 80 per cent of its network for its own purposes. Everything else would get shoe-horned into the remainder (although Cynthia at IPDemocracy says it might not be as bad as it sounds, and it looks like Om Malik agrees).

This, of course, is just the latest step in a campaign by the major telcos to strong-arm convince Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo to pay extra for delivery of their broadband content to consumers, a campaign that got its start with comments from Ed “pay up for those pipes” Whitacre of AT&T (formerly SBC) and Bill Smith of BellSouth. Why should they have to carry all that content on their networks, the telcos complain – why should Google make money from broadband and not share some of it with the carriers whose pipes they use?

As Mike at Techdirt notes, part of the problem is that the phone companies haven’t spent the money necessary to do all the things they want to do on their networks. The telcos made all kinds of promises about upgrades they planned to make – in return for which they got various concessions from the U.S. government – and then they never followed through, as telecom analyst Bruce Kushnick writes in a new book called The $200-Billion Broadband Scandal.

The big question is: Will the U.S. government allow the telcos to get away with this move, or will they step in to enforce some form of network neutrality? There used to be a concept called the “common carrier” principle, in which telcos were required to carry any and all voice traffic — that idea seems to have gone out the window.

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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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