I just wrote to my congressional “representative”, Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), regarding Network Neutrality. If you’re not familiar, Network Neutrality is a principle stating that Internet service providers should not charge different prices based on the type of information that’s sent over the network: it doesn’t matter whether that information is in the form of a video or an email. Basically, people should pay for the bandwidth used, not what is done with it. In the letter I asked her to vote in support of Network Neutrality legislation [Edit: full text of current legislation.], mentioning that unless the principle is upheld, consumers would in the end lose. (Here’s a great example of what you could expect would happen should network neutrality not be defended.)
Here was her response to me (emphasis mine):
Network neutrality is the principle that a consumer has equal access to all sites. However, the term is misleading. The problem is that over the next couple of years, large Internet sites are planning to offer high-definition video services, which will use large amounts of bandwidth and clog the pipelines of the Internet. Telephone and cable companies want to be able to charge for such large amounts of bandwidth; otherwise, they will have to pass the costs on to the consumer. These Internet sites obviously oppose such a move, as it forces them to pay for using increased bandwidth. Accordingly, these same Internet sites are aggressively lobbying Congress, and liberal special interest groups have seized on this opportunity to garner guaranteed access to Internet services.
Coupled with these special interest groups, Internet website lobbyists are distorting the picture by calling pay-for-performance fees a punishment to small business websites, using the term “network neutrality” as the hands off approach, when in fact their changes would be the first major government regulation of the Internet. Moreover, the changes that telephone and cable companies would like to implement consist of large amounts of bandwidth that a typical small business website would be extremely unlikely to use.
Rest assured, though, that as this debate continues, I will continue to monitor the issue and listen to the experts and my constituents. Should any legislation regarding network neutrality come to the floor, I will keep your comments in mind.
First, when you talk about Internet “pipelines” make sure you understand that the Internet is not a “series of tubes”. It’s also not a toilet. It won’t get clogged, by “liberal” groups or otherwise. (It’s almost as painful to see a representative using “liberal” as a derogatory term in a letter to her constituents as it is to see that she has as good a grasp of the Internet as Ted Stevens, former Rep R-AK.)
“The Internet does not work that way!”
Second. companies already pay for increased bandwith. What network neutrality protects is consumers paying different prices for how they use that bandwidth. Imagine going to any store selling office supplies and being charged different prices for the same type of printer paper based on how you plan to use it. This wouldn’t make any sense there, why does it make sense online?
Third, just like people already pay for increased bandwidth, they also already pay for performance. If I have DSL–as a web surfer or a website owner–I’ll be paying less (in theory) than the guy paying for T4 speeds. Network neutrality simply means that this will be the case, that network speeds and access to its features won’t be tampered with artificially. However if network neutrality is not upheld, then companies will be able to artificially throttle speeds based on the type of content being delivered or received, separate from the amount. This could be devastating for small business, and makes it fertile ground for monopolistic activity.
The idea that all regulation is bad regulation is a popular one among conservatives. It’s also a wrong one. I’m not saying that the idea that all regulation is good regulation is any better, what I am saying is that despite opinions to the contrary there is such thing as good regulation. This is an example. It is not onerous heavy handed regulation aimed at destroying business, it’s common sense regulation aimed at ensuring that the system is not abused and used for anti-competitive purposes.
If you’re concerned about this issue–and if you access the Internet for any reason you should be–then I urge you to contact your representative and contact your senators. Write to them, call them, and show up in their offices if you can. Tell them that network neutrality is worth defending.