by Mike Masnick

Network Neutrality Wouldn't Matter If There Was Real Competition

from the um...-no. dept

There's been a lot of talk about net neutrality lately, and whether or not the government should require internet service providers to let their users connect to any application or service online without unfairly blocking some. While service providers insist there's no reason for such a regulation, that hasn't stopped them from blocking certain ports or services for competitive, rather than technical reasons. Even more nefarious is the idea that they might just degrade competing services. It would seem like doing so would be a bad business decision. If it ever came out that they were intentionally degrading service, it could seriously harm any provider's reputation.

So, now, there's a bit of a debate going on with Adam Thierer stretching the argument of net neutrality to say that, if it were mandated, it would leave broadband service providers no way to price discriminate. Ed Felten counters that if they're not discriminating now when there is no mandate, then why would they suddenly start? Both are interesting and thorough looks at the issue and worth reading to get a sense of the argument. Of course, there are two things left out in these discussions. The first is that there is some bandwidth discrimination going on already. Despite Thierer's claims, many broadband service providers currently offer different tiers of service, though most are focused on bandwidth speeds. And, while it's not popular in the US, elsewhere it's much more common to see very clear caps. Also, plenty of US broadband providers do bandwidth discriminate by cutting off the heaviest users. The problem, in those cases, is often that users aren't told there's a cap and, in fact, are sold on the idea that the service is "unlimited" (which makes it a case of false advertising). Nowhere in the network neutrality debates is anyone saying that broadband service providers can't tier or price discriminate based on bandwidth. The only debate is about blocking access to certain services. The other big issue is a market one. Theirer's stance is to let the free market work its magic. That works only when there's a truly competitive market -- and a lot of people would question that in the broadband space, where many areas do face a monopoly or duopoly. On the whole, I agree that we shouldn't need network neutrality regulations, because the market should regulate things. However, if there isn't any real competition, that's where trouble shows up. So, the real debate (which Thierer ignores) is whether or not there's real competition in broadband access.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 28 Oct 2005 @ 7:06pm

    A fine history of telco neutrality.

    The automatic telephone dial system was invented in the 1890's by Almon Strowger, an undertaker. Back then calls were placed by ringing up the operator and asking to be connected to whomever you wanted to call. But operators for the phone company would sometimes redirect callers for Strowger to his competitor instead, or so the story goes. So Strowger invented and built the first automatic telephone exchange so that people could dial him directly without people in the telephone company redirecting his calls. This was in the 1890's and the telephone company involved that prompted Strowger's action is still in business and is one of the largest in the U.S. today. Network neutrality? Bah!

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