Network Neutrality

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Network Neutrality

Recently there have been many articles in major newspapers and trade magazines proclaiming we need network neutrality. This means that ISPs should be made to carry all types of content such as, video broadcasts, streaming radio and VoIP and should not be allowed to charge content providers for guaranteed quality of service to their customers. One has to wonder however if network neutrality is the wrong topic to be discussing.

Indeed some are beginning to ask such questions. Why? Well, as fewer and fewer companies control access to the Internet, they are free to come up with new and interesting ways to ensure they can profit but at the expense of consumers and innovation. So we should be asking instead why we have only two choices for broadband in this country.

As always, I am 100% for companies making profit but in an effort to be fair, I also want consumers to have choice and freedom to use the applications they want, when they want. I also believe content providers should not be held hostage by broadband providers who sell similar services to them.

When analyzing the current state of broadband in America, does it make sense for broadband providers to advertise how fast their networks are and then kick users off for taking advantage of the speed? As surprising as it may sound, at least one wireless operator tells you in their terms of service that they have the right to terminate your service if you use VoIP, share photos or use excessive bandwidth on their wireless network.

Cable companies too have similar policies and will limit upstream bandwidth or terminate your service if you upload what they deem to be in their judgment excessive.

One wonders how anyone can think we have true broadband competition when broadband providers -- wireless or wired -- can pen terms of service that are draconian and consumers have no choice but to use these services.

Of course it is the right of every company to make a buck but is it not the responsibility of regulators to ensure that consumers have adequate choice? Without choice -- and two choices a free market does not make -- we have a lack of choice. A lack of choice of course leads to companies acting in ways that inhibit growth and inhibit the ability of the consumer to have ever-better broadband access.

Fred Goldstein, the Principal of Ionary Consulting and an expert on the matter is
wary of having the government force ISPs to carry all traffic -- the principal behind network neutrality. He feels this could lead to people such as spammers taking advantage of ISPs or worse, an Internet that is unusable. As Goldstein so eloquently argues:

But the answer isn't to regulate the "Internet" per se: Not everything is the "Internet." It's to restore choice. It's vital to guarantee that local connectivity, raw bandwidth, remains available on the wholesale market, so that consumers have a choice of ISP. If there's a real choice of ISPs, then the free market will sort out the details. It's the telco-cable duopoly that makes the faux-Internet such a possibility. Here and there, a wireless ISP or cable overbuilder might offer a third choice, but shy of wholesale connectivity, there'll be no free market for information. What good is freedom of the press when a few wealthy publishers control all avenues of delivery?

And that is what the entire argument should be about. Choice. We have a lack of choice in broadband access and in virtually every case that there is limited choice, consumers lose.

This issue is of major significance because inexpensive and high speed broadband access can determine which nation's economy will win as globalization continues to make physical borders disappear.

We are all aware that oil prices and the war on terror are major issues that the US has to grapple with. At the same time if we care about our future, we need to ensure this country has the best broadband access available anywhere. That means we need the fastest access at the lowest price. We need policies that drive us towards this goal as quickly as possible and in addition, the Universal Service Fund should find a new source for its revenue and should be focused on ensuring every individual in the US has blazing fast and unrestricted Internet access at the lowest prices in the world.

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