May 16, 2006
Can We Please Get Some 'Quality of Service' Around Here?
Let me go on record to say that I agree with the telecoms that network neutrality should be abolished. After all, it isn't AT&T's fault that the original architects of the Internet chose to design the Internet in a manner that prevents AT&T from maximizing its revenue and delivering increased shareholder value. Hell, AT&T fought the invention of the packet-switched network all the way. So, let's cut them a break, eh?
First, the telecoms really do deserve to be able to extract more rent from Google and my employer and other ingrates who have figured out how to make large amounts of money using their precious infrastructure. 'Cuz how fair is that? It's like, I build a road for all kinds of people, and then you use that road to make a fortune in the lucrative asparagus-shipping market, and all you do is pay me a pittance for road maintenance. What a bastard you are! Of course the telecoms could try to extract this money directly, which would obviate the need to shell out all that extra cash to Washington lobbyists and PR firms and whatnot. But trust me, that money is well-spent. Just think how embarrassing it is to call up your top customers and say, "Look, I realize that you're buying a lot of my stuff, and I realize that under ordinary circumstances this would mean you should get a bulk discount... but see, the thing is, I'd actually like to charge you a lot more than anyone else, because, well, you can afford it. Right? Guys?" Even a stone-cold telecom exec can't stomach making that sales call. They pay telecom executives well, but not that well.
Second, the telecoms also face a deadly threat from their users. Current pricing models for DSL and cable assume that users only make occasional requests for bytes. The telecoms can "guarantee" a certain minimum download speed to all their customers because on average, no one customer is actually using anywhere near the bandwidth that the company agreed to deliver. That model was a swell idea a few years ago, but now things have gone crazy. Cray-ZEE! People are downloading giant video files! Listening to streaming audio! Watching streaming video! Playing MMORPGs! Joining peer-to-peer networks! Bandwidth usage is going, up, up, up. And the telecoms can't just raise rates, because ordinary people tend to get really angry when you start charging them more for the same service, particularly when the service has historically always decreased in price.
So the only sensible solution is to enable the telecoms to filter out and degrade quality for certain websites as necessary, so that the telecoms can A) extract higher rates from wealthy businesses on the high end and B) stamp out bandwidth-sucking startups and other wastes-of-time on the low end. This requires abolishing the basic standards on which the Internet was founded, but hey, you gotta break some eggs to make them omelets. Well, okay, that's not the only sensible solution. Sam has an alternative plan -- he says, "Maybe they can charge the NSA for our phone records if they're hard up for cash." That's my Sammy, always thinking outside the box!