Net Neutrality: will it help spur improvements for customers, or slow infrastructure and development?

The kids are asleep and I’m catching up on my Sunday reading, mail and a few bills. I noticed as I paid the cable bill online that I received a link to a Seattle Times editorial this weekend, tackling the challenge in DC around a network neutrality bill that Congress could pass later this year.  (See also this companion piece that calls attention to issues around the current level of service.) 

“Free the Internet …

“Democracy is meaningless without structure. It requires support and infrastructure to become a word capable of giving entire nations voice and freedom.”

The concept is that the Internet is, in the US, owned by the people.  Given that the Internet was a started by DARPA and funded by the US government (read “taxpayers”), the basic framework of the Internet in the States (and now, around the world) is “free” — it’s essentially the last mile (or a couple of DSL to the CO) and the network management I pay for in a monthly fee to my cable and telco providers. 

Now, I (along with several hundred million folks in this country) may own the airwaves, but I pay for the pipes to get television into our household. It’s the same story for a majority of people who live in this country (as well as many others), paying a premium so our kids can get their fill of Hannah Montana and the Discovery Channel. 

The NCTA estimates that of the 111.3M television households in the States, 65.5M are basic cable subscribers: that’s almost 60%.  About half of those households (33.5M) are cable broadband subscribers.  And to keep the Internet flowing to and from my home, connecting me to the world, cable companies spent more than $12 billion last year on construction and upgrades

Given all that investment, I would like to see my basic connection speeds rise in tandem with my monthly cable bill, especially when you compare access speed/price around the world.  But even as milk and eggs get more expensive with each passing year, I see the same amount in the carton: why should the Internet be any different?  As a consumer, I expect to see certain prices for other “free” bandwidth fall, such as telephony. We’ve seen competition in basic mobile phone offerings increase, and correspondingly costs drop year over year; of course, mobile carriers offer more and more value-added services to keep my monthly bills up.

Back to ‘net access.  The US is not at the top of the stack rank when it comes to Internet access as compared with Asia, where I  noted last year that you could get 100Mbps access for less than the average cost of 6Mbps in the States… 

“Hong Kong’s City Telecom offers 100Mbps service for about US$25 a month… [and] for the same price as 1Gbit access in HK, you can have up to 30Mbps in New Jersey and other major markets. .”

.. and 100 Mbps FTTH for $36 a month in Japan.  Population density certainly helps, but even in major North American downtown metropolitan areas you don’t see that sort of offer from your local ISP. 

Counterpoint is this commentary from Randolph J. May in the The National Law Journal last year, Net Neutrality Would Violate the First Amendment Rights of ISPs. In it, May says…

“As a matter of policy, Congress should be very hesitant to pass a law in anticipation of conjectured harms that may never materialize. As the Internet continues to evolve, such a law almost certainly would turn out to be overly broad in application, restricting efficient business arrangements that otherwise would allow ISPs to make available services demanded by consumers at lower costs. Moreover, the vague terms of the mandates would be grist for the litigation mills for years to come.

AT&T (in their merger with SBC) agreed not to sell premium access Internet to customers for two years.  But that’s not what concerns me as a customer: even past that short moratorium, IMHO ISP’s shouldn’t have the option to degrade any third-party service over my connection.  With a multitude of offerings from cable and telco providers, I trust that I won’t see the equivalent of a gas or electric meter attached to the side of my cable hookup — data is data and should be treated equally. 

There are ISP services and offerings that may help win my future business as a consumer, including IPTV, with network DVR and HDTV.  And higher network bandwidth, especially as the boys spend more and more time on the net doing their homework 😉

More links of interest:

Tags: net neutrality, consumers, ISP, Internet.

One reply on “Net Neutrality: will it help spur improvements for customers, or slow infrastructure and development?”

So, I’ve looked at articles, listened to arguments, and the one question I’m still not sure of is, what do we want again?  I’ve seen companies lobby for both ends, and with all the propaganda getting thrown around, I’m not sure.  I know the cable companies don’t want neutrality, which probably means that I do, but I’m not entirely sure.

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