Fearmongers or fat cats? Pick your side in the Net neutrality fight

This week's court decision pushed the Net neutrality debate to new heights, but listen closely, and you'll mostly hear hot air

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Chest bump, spittle flying, whiskey shot -- sure, there hasn't been much in the way of selective packet throttling, says the EFF legal eagle, because it's been illegal. But all carriers have used QoS and packet prioritization over the last decade, often aggressively so, and this ruling opens the floodgates to stifling innovation and committing evil sins against the consumer and God-fearing Americans everywhere. Free Web access will grind to a halt, free speech will cease, and tech innovation will be crushed like a cute, fuzzy bunny beneath a falling log.

Of course we've been implementing QoS, the Verizon exec bawls. Without QoS, people like deviant BitTorrent users and eye-patch-wearing superspammers would hog so much bandwidth that the Internet would be rendered useless to the rest of us. Removing FCC restrictions means these bastards will not only have their packets de-prioritized, they'll be completely blocked, caught, and sent to Gitmo for enthusiastic waterboarding by highly paid and talented sadists -- no more than they deserve. There's no reason for carriers to persecute rival Web-based services since they've never done it before. Restricting them with legislation makes about as much sense as the LAPD raiding Justin Bieber's house looking for eggs.

I'd have been enjoying a little nap by this point if the two of them hadn't been so damn loud. Arguments predicated on extremes press my boredom button almost immediately. Neither joker is right, or maybe each is half right.

Net neutrality giveth and taketh away

Net neutrality has been keeping the Web free to a degree and certainly hasn't hurt tech innovation, but it's also weakened infrastructure investment, as evidenced by the fact that the United States is in something like 25th [Editor: More like 33rd.] place when it comes to average bandwidth to the home, right behind Antarctica. On the other hand, packet prioritization is an essential evil to keep the Internet running at all, and it's required technology for the content distribution networks that keep Netflix and YouTube in business and ensure that today's teenagers can addle their own hormones at home via uninterrupted streams.

Will carriers throttle Web services that compete with their own offerings? Of course they are, but not enough to seriously piss off everyone. After all, it's legal now. If Netflix or Google files suit, the case will be in court for about a decade, during which time the carrier set will enjoy a little business boost (though "little" is relative depending on how many billions you have). For them, it's good commerce to see how far they can push the boundaries before we stage a million-man march on Verizon HQ.

But it'll also bring healthier Internet performance and perhaps more serious dollars devoted to laying fiber to the home. Yeah, middle-of-the-road thinking is a shade dull, but it's still the way of the world -- so sit down, shut up, and see what happens, you two.

Who do you got in this fight? The crusader or the corporation? Post your wager in the comments or via email: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Fearmongers or fat cats? Pick your side in the Net neutrality fight," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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