Editor’s Notebook: World War Web
A largely quiet battle over the future of the Internet has been playing out on Capitol Hill and, appropriately enough, on the Web for much of this year. Recently, the House struck down proposals for what one side of the fight calls “Net neutrality,” or the premise that the companies that provide Internet access should not be able to create tiered pricing or any other type of preferential treatment. As of press time, leading Senators Ron Wyden, Olympia Snowe and others were standing tough to block a telecommunications bill that does not include Net neutrality protections. While this sounds like a straightforward argument—why should telecommunications firms like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T get to decide who pays how much for what kind of service—it’s really not.
For one, some laws already exist that enable the Federal Communications Commission to ensure fair Internet access to all kinds of firms, even companies that provide services competitive to those provided by the telecommunications firms. That’s made it difficult for Net neutrality proponents to prove the current climate is one stacked in the telcos favor. Also, lawmakers don’t like to create regulations based on the supposition that businesses could abuse a free market system.
Then again, it was a Verizon executive who earlier this year complained that Google’s success is coming at bargain Internet access rates, making money that should be in one of the telco’s pockets. Sounds more like sour grapes than a sound reason for why Internet access companies should be able to charge tiered rates for faster service. And while it should be a concern that businesses without large coffers will be relegated to the slowest lane of the Internet highway—just think about how hard it will be for small nonprofits and start-up firms to compete in this landscape—I’m more concerned about the ability of the Comcasts and the Time Warners to reduce their own Internet access costs for their media properties that go up against online entities like Yahoo!, MySpace or even CNN.com.