The Neutral Net

» Changes in Washington Change Internet Access?

In February, 2006, the US Senate Commerce held hearings in Washington that may well affect your on-line business. And, despite the fact that e-commerce growth out-paces brick-and-mortar, same-store growth by 96% annually (since 2000), no one noticed these important hearings. A short piece in the Wall St. Journal, 68 seconds on the evening news, a sound bite here and there, and the question of maintaining a neutral network faded from public consciousness like Vanilla Ice.

And this is important to our on-line industry!

What is a neutral network?
It’s what we have now.

On today’s Internet, all bits are created equal. No preference is given to one transmission over another. Data moves from place to place in a “best practices” sort of way, but no one receives preferential treatment, right?

Consider this. The pipelines that hook us all together (interconnectivity) can no longer handle the traffic load. Just as there are traffic jams on the highway, there are traffic jams on the Information Super-Highway — and they’re going to get worse.

Throughout the entire history of the Net, data has been delivered on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis. It’s blind egalitarianism. My byte just as important as yours. Which means, when there’s a data-jam, your jpg of the kids’ birthday party receives equal access to Net facilities as the daily accounts of an overseas bank or Fortune 50 company. Now that’s what the Internet is all about.

What’s the dispute?
Money. Bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s all about money — and lots of it.

With the ever-expanding menu of net services, from video and music downloads to podcasts, the demand for data transmission space is increasing — quickly! Daily. And that brings into play the Economics 101 concept of supply and demand. Where demand is greater than supply, prices rise. And that’s what the owners of the Net’s infrastructure want to happen. A rise in prices.

Content vs. Infrastructure
There are two, distinct branches of the Internet experience. First, there are those companies that provide the nuts-and-bolts infrastructure that makes the net possible. We’re talking telephone companies, cable companies, hybrids and hard-wired companies like Cisco and Intel. These are the investor darlings that provide the means to deliver Internet content.

Then there’s the content side of the experience. Google, Napster, Amazon and a few million other on-line sources of data deliver the stuff that passes through the infrastructure (see above) before showing up on you monitor.

Now, the content people want to keep things just the way they are. The vast majority of these ‘pixel publishers’ want to keep unfettered access for all. The infrastructure guys see dollar signs. They want to change the very heart and soul of the Internet and undercut its raison d’etre.

Preferred Pricing
So, what if the infrastructure companies started offering premium services for a price? What if certain users were given preferential access to transmission services — for a fee? It would be like the commuter fast lanes you see on highways.

This would mean that your jpg would sit stalled for a minute or two (or longer) while the data from the overseas bank zips right through. It’s like cutting in line. You didn’t do it in third grade, you don’t do it now.

But that’s what the Senate Commerce Committee was considering during public hearings in February, 2006. The concept of preferred pricing programs should send shivers down the spine of everyone from Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, to the smallest site owner on the W3.

Death to Preferred Pricing
The reason the Internet has become such a vital, robust part of our professional and personal lives is because it is endlessly innovative. It brings together the collective smarts, creativity and business acumen of the worldwide community. New ideas are developed and implemented in weeks and months, not years.

The Internet is wild. Law enforcement is spotty, black hats are always at the gates, but the Internet dynamic encourages new thinking, new strategies and new ways to expand the economy. (Are you kidding? Google’s per share price went up 100% in fiscal year 2005. You better believe numbers like that have an impact on the economy.)

It’s the wide-open, level playing field that has made the Net such a potent force for innovation and such an important part of the US economy. Preferred pricing would change that level playing field, meaning some other company’s data would receive a faster ride than your equally precious data.

So, Are We Just Going to Take This?
What do you think? There’s just too much at stake here, regardless of what position you play on that level playing field. Webmasters, hosting companies, site owners, content providers — the proposed legislation under consideration must be stopped and the Internet community has the power to do just that.

First, contact your senators and congressional representatives. Send e-mails. Lots of them. Keep the Internet Free. Power to the People!

Second, use your outlets to spread the word. Put up a notice on your home page to Free the Net from the bean counters and link to this article.

It’s not too late to keep the Net out of the hands of Verizon, Comcast and SBC/ATT and keep it open for the little guys hatching the next Google in their garage right now.

Free the Net!

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