A Better Way to Keep the Net Open and Accessible
By ERIC PFANNER
Published: August 15, 2010
PARIS — Neutrality has been great for Switzerland — and it could be for the Internet, too, say supporters of the idea that broadband providers should give equal priority to all digital traffic, from e-mail to bandwidth-hungry video.
Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
U.S. Web companies and consumer groups say that so-called network neutrality is essential to keeping the Internet open and wondrous. Without rules guaranteeing neutrality, they add, telecommunications providers might erect online tollbooths or obstruct Internet traffic in other ways.
Network operators argue that technology companies are getting a free ride; without the power to manage an ever-increasing flow of digital data, they say, the Internet will grind to a halt.
So, when news emerged of a nonaggression pact between Google, the biggest Internet company, and Verizon, a U.S. network operator, in which they endorsed some kinds of digital traffic management, the Internet erupted with calls for government action to guarantee network neutrality.
But instead of demanding new regulations, U.S. advocates of network neutrality ought to take a look abroad. They might find that there is another way to ensure that the Internet remains accessible, one that is more consistent with American laissez-faire business principles: competition.
Across much of Europe, consumers can choose among dozens of broadband providers, offering faster and less expensive Internet access than is available to most Americans. The situation is similar in Australia and in some advanced broadband markets in Asia, like Hong Kong and Singapore. Consumers who are unhappy with their broadband providers — if, for example, they suspect that their Internet use is not getting priority treatment — can simply switch.
In the United States, by contrast, many consumers can choose between only two broadband providers — one offering service over the phone lines, the other via cable. Others have no choice at all. U.S. regulators, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, have not generally required broadband providers to open their networks to competitors.
This fuels suspicions about the intentions of broadband providers, as well as the demands for network neutrality.Read more...