"Reverse Net Neutrality" The Latest Supposed Concern

The debate over net neutrality is pretty quickly descending into farce, with both sides’ tactics leaving a lot to be desired, and a serious shortage of rational thought on the issue. Now, there’s apparently another issue we’ve all got to worry about — “reverse network neutrality”. A couple of bloggers at ZDnet are up in arms about the ESPN 360 online service, which is available only to customers of particular cable ISPs. One (wrongfully) alleges ESPN didn’t pay certain providers, so its content is blocked, and the other picks up the ball and runs with it, as evidence “we may need to reverse our focus towards the abusive content companies” demanding payment from ISPs for their content. Once again, people on both sides of the issue are in the wrong. It’s not as if certain ISPs are blocking ESPN.com. The 360 service is something the network sells to ISPs so they can offer some type of “exclusive” content to their customers, and it has every right to choose how it distributes its content, even if the chosen method limits its audience. In addition, this type of content deal has existed for a long time, and is very common (in ISP’s portal deals, for instance). Content providers, regardless of media, have always had the right to choose how they distribute their content, and to a certain extent, who can consume it. The key difference is that they’re the ones making the determination, not the provider of the medium itself. It’s sort of like this: your phone rings, and you look at the caller ID, and decide if you want to allow the person calling to speak to you, as is your choice. That’s significantly different than dialing another number on your phone, only to find out your telephone company won’t put the call through because they don’t like who you’re calling.

Arguing that content providers are in the wrong because they’re selling access to their content is nothing short of silly, no matter which side you look at things from. Saying that any net content “should be available to every Internet user with a connection that has the physical capacity to display that content” is ridiculous, as content providers should be free to choose their own business models (no matter how backwards or short-sighted). Decisions about content should be made at the ends of the network, by the provider or consumer, not by somebody in the middle whose sole job is transport. And to start arguing about “reverse net neutrality” is completely disingenuous, since no such thing exists. Once again, proponents of both sides of the net neutrality debate are badly missing the point, misinterpreting facts and making false statements — which doesn’t help anybody.

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