Even if the merger rumors between SBC -- er, AT&T -- and BellSouth continue to go unfulfilled, the two companies' ideologies already sound joined. Following the head of AT&T's earlier assertion that Internet sites and services should pay to access "his pipes", BellSouth's CTO says that ISPs shouldn't be allowed to block content from reaching their customers, but rather should be allowed to let companies pay to have data prioritized -- and sent at higher speeds -- to their customers. The exec was quick to add that ISPs shouldn't be allowed to degrade the performance of those that don't pay, but rather establish a baseline service and then sell the premium speeds on top of it. You don't have to be a cynic to imagine they'd just set the baseline at a low level, probably too low for third-party VoIP services and other competitive applications they've talked about blocking before, basically requiring anybody that wanted their data to reach customers at a reasonable speed to pay. Every time a carrier makes an absurd statement like this, it merely highlights the need for network neutrality rules given the lack of real competition in the broadband access market. Blocking content or hobbling services would break the Internet. Part of its beauty is the relative ease with which a new site or service can reach a large audience. Legalizing these sort of virtual protection rackets would throw up a ridiculous barrier, merely to protect carriers' interests because they can't be bothered to, or simply can't, compete.
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