Monday, June 12, 2006

That explains Richard Cohen, I guess

The WaPo has a stunningly misleading and inacurate editorial about Net neutrality today. It is unsigned, of course, but combines the how-dare-you-proles-presume-to-speak righteous shilling we expect from the new Mike McCurry with the rhetorical skill of WaPo's own Richard Cohen. From The Internet's Future:

(T)he big Internet firms -- Google, Microsoft, eBay -- that want their services delivered fast but don't want the pipe owners to extract fees from them.
Can they really be that stupid, or do they just think their readers are? Google already pays tens of millions of dollars in bandwidth and connection charges every year. The rest of us pay out the nose every month. And the pipe owners should be able to charge as much per megabit of data as they can get away with (assuming competition exists). They just shouldn't be able to decide your bits are better than mine. This straw man nonsense just refuses to go away.

But if you want triple-distilled stupid, its is hard to top this:

The advocates of neutrality suggest, absurdly, that a non-neutral Internet would resemble cable TV: a medium through which only corporate content is delivered. This analogy misses the fact that the market for Internet connections, unlike that for cable television, is competitive: More than 60 percent of Zip codes in the United States are served by four or more broadband providers that compete to give consumers what they want -- fast access to the full range of Web sites, including those of their kids' soccer league, their cousins' photos, and the Christian Coalition. If one broadband provider slowed access to fringe bloggers, the blogosphere would rise up in protest -- and the provider would lose customers.

Got that? If they pull my plug, why I'll just scream bloody murder. But how, and to whom? And the fact there are multiple providers today is little guarantee that there will be more than one or two tomorrow? Consolidation and concentration of market power are happily encouraged by the current administration witness their attempts to relax ownership rules for traditional media. This argument is just too naive by far.

There's more:
Meanwhile, there are powerful arguments on the other side. If you want innovation on the Internet, you need better pipes: ones that are faster, less susceptible to hackers and spammers, or smarter in ways that nobody has yet thought of. The lack of incentives for pipe innovation is more pressing than the lack of incentives to create new Web services.

You can see this imbalance in Wall Street's low valuation of Internet infrastructure firms such as Verizon (price-to-earnings ratio: 12) and its infatuation with Internet service firms such as Google (price-to-earnings ratio: 69).

OK, maybe they really are that stupid. Telcos have low valuations because they are in a commodity business with minimal growth. Google is, well, Google -- a phenomenon that makes every other big company's P/E look feeble by comparison. And there will be plenty of incentive for pipe innovation so long as demand for bandwidth keeps growing.

And finally, this:
The weakest aspect of the neutrality case is that the dangers it alleges are speculative. It seems unlikely that broadband providers will degrade Web services that people want and far more likely that they will use non-neutrality to charge for upgrading services that depend on fast and reliable delivery, such as streaming high-definition video or relaying data from heart monitors. If this proves wrong, the government should step in.

Lessee, that wouldn't happen to be the very same government that will likely be encouraging the telcos limit unpatriotic talk, now would it?

It should come as no surprise that the old guard would scoff at the possibility that the Big Telcos might simply decline to transport the bits of folks like me. The WaPo crowd does not see that particular possibility as a bad thing, so I guess we shouldn't expect support for a free press from those who already own one.


Blogger Eric Soderstrom said...

Where have all the comments gone?

Where is everybody?

We were doing great there for a while.

Did you all run off to YearlyKos?


Anyway - I hate this net neutrality thing because I feel like an "elitist" - not to be confused with "elite" - because I have to tell people I know that I know better than they do. I know that the cable companies want to turn the internet in to a broadcast medium. Their idea of interactive content is playing stupid flash games and voting for your favorite in an online poll.

We should look in to that editorial and see if it was one of those White House "video information" pieces masquerading as an editorial.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose that the source of the Post's viewpoint on this is the money the corporation stands to make from a nonneutral net.

As a consumer on the periphery of the cable-broadband revolution, I haven't been paying close attention. If you look at the internet as a vehicle for communication rather than as a vehicle for commerce, neutrality is the only regime that makes sense.

Can we get any traction by reminding people that the internet, connecting us by narrow or broad bandwidth, is a necessity now, like telephone service? The telecommunication companies should understand that. A message from WalMart shouldn't take precedence over a message from grandma.

Cable hasn't kept any of its promises, but only highly addicted people need cable to live. The internet is probably already the world's primary mode of interactive communication. Not a good time to be selling off access.

5:44 AM  
Blogger bluememe said...

A, I think one of the underlying problems is that First Amendment arguments have never been popular with hoi polloi. "Free speech for me but not for thee" has been the most common view for probably 100 years -- Alien and Sedition Act, anyone?

The other, newer problem is that the folks in Congress now have a powerful financial incentive to dismantle public discourse.

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh. Four or more? Those are sketchy numbers to begin with. I live in Chicago, and the only web providers in my tax bracket are SBC (now at&t) and Comcast. They're both lousy, but what can I do? I can't afford the companies that offices use, and neither can any individual.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Eric Soderstrom said...

Same boat here on providers. There's Mediacom and then there's DSL (SBC/AT&T). I keep an AOL account for dial up backup because there's a forest fire or backhoe incident every Summer where the big pipe in to the region gets cut. It's a bogus argument.

But come to think of it, wouldn't the WaPo online services be subject to paying higher fees as well? Or are they in some sort of deal where if they promote the agenda they will be exempted?

I also think it is important to remind people that we, the tax payers, already paid for the R&D for the internet through our military expenditures way back in the day.

Also, I agree with the second Anonymous that Internet Access is much like phone service.

12:19 PM  

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