Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/3/2006
09:37 AM
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Net Neutrality Hyperbole Stumbles On

I'm sitting here listening to the steady drone of machines digging holes so that Verizon can install fiber optic cables in my neighborhood. It's not bothering me directly, but it reminds me of another cacophony that's got me ruffled.

I'm sitting here listening to the steady drone of machines digging holes so that Verizon can install fiber optic cables in my neighborhood. It's not bothering me directly, but it reminds me of another cacophony that's got me ruffled.Yes, net neutrality. Who would have thought telecommunications could create such exaggerated name calling? After hearing only the opposing arguments, one would conclude robber barons on one side of the table are arm-wrestling robber barons on the other side of the table to see who can be the first to destroy the Internet.

Net neutrality advocates, I get it already. Oligopolistic AT&T and Verizon want to extract more money than they already do from the pockets of poor consumers, precisely so that they don't have to innovate. They want to create a two-tiered system where their services are Internet Plus and everyone else's--including competing VoIP and video providers--are relegated to something akin to a 2,400 baud connection. And they'll use the vice grips they have on Congress to make sure that happens. It's all preposterous, as if someone wanted to tell me where and how I could and couldn't walk on the sidewalk.

Telecommunications companies, I get you, too. The net neutrality crowd is nothing more than the minions of the big technology companies that want an unfair competitive advantage. Google is evil. It wants to clog up the Internet with high-bandwidth applications, but it doesn't want to pay for it. Same with all the other companies...they want a free ride. Consumers and companies should be given the choice to buy more, better, faster, and the Internet won't suffer. Besides, all the fuss is about hypotheticals, anyway.

Sure, I get you're just trying to market different ideas. I understand the technology and circumstances. The Internet is relatively democratic, and carriers haven't done too much toggling of traffic to make one bit better than any other up until now. Google and others aren't getting a free ride; they already pay oodles for bandwidth. On the other hand, the carriers that built the networks want a bigger return on investment and want to assure their own services against a Web cluttered with high-bandwidth applications. Traditional telecom is a dying industry, and the survival mechanism has been to turn into ISPs on steroids.

Problem is, the lawmakers you're trying to coddle seem not to get it. One on side, there's Alaska's Ted Stevens, whose staff recently sent him "an Internet," which, according to Stevens, is something that's unlike a truck. On the other, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon took mistaken aim at Cox, which he said was blocking Craigslist. Turns out it was basically the other way around.

I'm not here to argue what should or shouldn't be done. Some smart people have already done so, and others can help educate you on the issues. I'm just suggesting that while the telecom bill sits in election-year limbo, both parties need to calm it a bit and explain things in simple, real terms. Otherwise, a poorly written law or lack of any law could have negative consequences for both sides. Then again, Washington has always been about hyperbole, a place where truth is often stranger than fiction anyway, and I'm just a lowly journalist. My idea could be just a pipe dream. Or a series-of-tubes dream.

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