Thursday, May 04, 2006

Network Neutrality and COPE

We've been having an off line discussion on this, mostly trying to figure out what is going on. I have yet to see a good piece justifying COPE. I have to look around more. It all is circling the telecom reformation act that is floating about under various bills.
The U.S. Congress has network neutrality under scrutiny and perhaps under threat. Network neutrality is the concept that broadband carriers will neither interfere with nor inhibit the free flow of information over the Internet. A bill, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Efficiency Act of 2006, or COPE (aka the Barton-Rush Act), is making its way through the House of Representatives. It could empower commercial broadband carriers like Sprint and AT&T to manipulate Internet transactions by prohibiting or slowing access to and transmission of specific sites. In effect, the buzz is that the House proposes to cede control of the Internet to the telecoms and cable companies. By contrast, there are bills being introduced in the Senate that seek to protect network neutrality. First among these is S. 2360, the proposed Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006.

What's at stake? COPE could permit Internet carriers, the owners of the "“pipes,"” to discriminate among different content providers, to give some preferential placement, or even to restrict some content. Detractors see this as both private sector content regulation (pay for placement) and perhaps even censorship. Proponents argue that it would be a case of the "unseen hand" at work. Proponents have argued that there is little evidence that private sector carriers discriminate against content providers. Detractors point to cases in Canada and the U.S. where Internet carriers have, in fact, acted to limit Internet free speech.
My original concept was more related to the core network providers, which this WaPo article speaks more to with regard to network neutrality.
For more than a year, public interest groups, including the Consumer Federation and Consumers Union, have been lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to write the concept called "network neutrality" into law and regulation. Google and Yahoo have joined their lobbying efforts. And online retailers, Internet travel services, news media and hundreds of other companies that do business on the Web also have a lot at stake.

Meanwhile, on the other side, companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth are lobbying just as hard, saying that they need to find new ways to pay for the expense of building faster, better communication networks. And, they add, because these new networks will compete with those belonging to Comcast, Time Warner and oth er cable companies -- which currently have about

55 percent of the residential broadband market -- this will eventually bring down the price of your high-speed Internet service and television access.

I'm going to remain very skeptical on the "bring down the price" idea. I'm going to bet there isn't a chance in hell of that happening. At least not until there is actual competition in the broadband market. Seeing that most of the country has the choice of their cable provider or dial-up, I don't see there being any changes. Especially when the vast majority of municipalities only deal with a single vendor. You may call it micro-monopolies if you like, but they are monopolies in truth.

Information Week has an article that gives some perspective of those fighting Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Efficiency Act of 2006 (COPE).
A congressional committee drew rapid fire Wednesday after killing an amendment to preserve network neutrality.

A coalition that drew together the Gun Owners of America, the Democratic-leaning organization MoveOn, and several of the country's top technology CEOs, blasted the committee with a news statement announcing, "House Ignores Public, Sells Out the Internet."

"Today the House Energy and Commerce Committee struck a blow to Internet freedom," the statement read.

The committee passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency (COPE) Act of 2006 Wednesday, readying it for a full House vote. A portion of the bill would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to enforce network neutrality.

GOA and MoveOn? Interesting?
Telecommunications companies want the FCC to regulate Internet traffic and have argued for the ability to charge companies more for premium services. They say that they need to increase revenue to upgrade networks and that tiered pricing would place the burden of cost on the companies that most need the improved infrastructure. Opponents say that if some companies get premium service, others will get inferior service. They say that will destroy the even playing field that has given small Web site operators and bloggers the same reach as large companies.

Their opponents include: the AARP, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Vint Cerf, eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, CEOs from Microsoft, Google, Intel, IAC/InterActiveCorp., and religious broadcasters.

You have to love this yelping about funding. The Politicos going to the bar to stop gas price gouging that has never been proven, and demanding that the oil companies reinvest. Yet they are letting the core network owners pull this act when they have big profits but refuse to reinvest.
Earlier in the week, the House Committee on the Judiciary debated the issue. Walter McCormick, president and CEO of the U.S. Telecom Association, testified. His group represents more than 1,200 companies.

McCormick said he thinks that the country's anti-trust laws are sufficient to protect consumers and the companies do not want to block, degrade or control access. They simply want to give larger pipes to businesses that need them. McCormick said that under the current system, consumers are shouldering part of the burden for increased capacity, while providers would like to charge the heaviest users.

What? The companies already are paying for bandwidth. They buy it like everyone else. How is charging them more going to give them more bandwidth? This also begs the question of what happens once the infrastructure upgrades are complete? Do the fees go away? I doubt it.

I'd love to see the numbers that show that this would be a benefit to the end users and not just to the companies that are already being paid for the services.

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