Monday, November 28, 2005

The struggle for the open, end-to-end Internet


On March 3, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it settled a case against a small North Carolina-based telephone company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use voice-over-Internet calling services instead of regular phone lines.

On Sept. 15, the first major draft of proposed changes in the nation's telecommunication's laws was circulated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The draft said Internet service providers must not "block, impair, interfere with the offering of, access to, or the use of such content, applications or services."

On Nov. 2, another draft of the bill came out, with language specifically addressing the Internet video services that are proliferating as connection speeds increase and the phone companies get into the digital television business. In this draft, the prohibition on blocking or impeding content was gone.

If the bill passes as is, tech companies say, the Internet could be forever compromised.

"Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity," Vinton G. Cerf, a founding father of the Internet who now works for Google Inc., wrote in a letter to Congress.

The phone companies argue that with their new fiber-optic systems capable of handling huge amounts of bandwidth, they simply want the ability to set aside some of it for their own services, be it television, gaming or anything else.

Unfortunately for them, the head of phone giant SBC Communications Inc., Edward E. Whitacre Jr., was a little more plain-spoken in an interview in Business Week.

"Now what they [Google, Yahoo, MSN] would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it," Whitacre said. "So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using."

Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes

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