The very important policy debate over how Internet services will be delivered in the future, and who will pay for what, is off to a bad start. Whether called "Net neutrality" or "Net diversity," depending on what part of the issue you think is most important to focus on, one thing is for sure: it’s a complex issue and deserves to be fully considered with responsible, informed and informative discourse. That’s not what’s happening. The cable industry has so far been the most responsible participant in the opening rounds of this discussion. The rhetoric is already flying about "saving the Net as we know it" and "stopping" the cable and telephone company deliverers of broadband Internet access from blocking certain sites and creating "walled gardens" out of the Internet. The biggest cable companies, however, have already made it very clear that they do not, and have absolutely no intention of "blocking" access to any Internet site a cable modem customer wants to access. That’s a bogus issue. This is not about restricting our customer’s access to the Internet. This is about how enhanced services should be provided and paid for. The telephone company providers of DSL service have not helped the cause of maintaining a reasoned debate. First, there was the one rural telephone company that blocked port access to an Internet phone company. About 200 people, primarily in Alabama, were affected. The FCC immediately fined the company and there is no record of any other such blocking happening. But that one incident is being used to suggest a crisis is at hand regarding the freedom of the Internet. Then, officials from some of the biggest telcos suggested that if they were expected to provide enhanced services, like "quality of service" guarantees for companies wanting to deliver voice or video over the Internet, then those companies would have to pay for that enhanced service. Well, "crisis mode" cries have gone up again. Walt Mossberg, gadget and tech columnist for the Wall Street Journal, spewed invective on a recent NPR talk show, likening any such fees to a Mafia protection racket. That’s not informed, or informative, and while Walt defends his position to say anything he wants because he is an "opinion columnist," I think that when complex policy is involved the public deserves more. We should try to explain this issue in more than just snide sound bites, and explain it from all sides. So hats off to the cable folks for apparently deciding to take the high road. Let’s try to explain what it really means, what the costs are, and who pays when one small segment of users decides it wants to use vast amounts of bandwidth to distribute, for instance, streaming HD video. Is it really bad to say that voice communications should be treated differently (not just the normal first-come, first-served data stream) on the Internet so that it works better? I’m certainly opposed to intentionally degrading some data in favor of others, but what about enhancing it? If that costs more, shouldn’t the folks who want that enhanced service pay for it rather than spread the cost over the entire customer base? If we do that, the "digital divide" could become a chasm. How, and who is going to pay for the next infrastructure upgrade, the end user or the new business promoter? Haven’t we learned that facilities based competition works better than "utility" regulation? All legitimate questions. All complex policy issues. Let’s be sure that we, at least, stay informative, not insulting.

The Daily

Subscribe

Debate Ready

Networks are pulling out all the stops for the first presidential debate set to take place Tuesday between Donald Trump and Joe Biden . Ad-supported streamer Haystack News will offer streaming channels for the

Read the Full Issue
The Skinny is delivered on Tuesday and focuses on the cable profession. You'll stay in the know on the headlines, topics and special issues you value most. Sign Up