Don't neuter the Net

Net neutrality legislation would stop bandwidth providers' power grab

Senator Ron Wyden: We love you. Wyden’s the Oregon Democrat who introduced legislation this week seeking to end this attack on Net neutrality.

In case you’re not fully aware, the big telecom and cable broadband vendors have proposed some legislation seeking to put the Internet on a two- or three-tiered pricing model -- with the little side benefit of handing completely unregulated network management capabilities to the bandwidth providers (i.e., Verizon, MCI, whomever). That would mean they could do things like block independent service traffic in favor of their own (usually less innovative and overpriced) services. Wyden's proposed legislation would make ISPs treat content equally. Go Wyden, go.

Naturally, matters would only get worse as the Bells continue gobbling each other up. AT&T’s $67 billion deal to buy BellSouth (and thereby pretty much resurrect Ma Bell) is the latest, but the recent spate includes Verizon chomping down MCI, SBC munch-merging with AT&T, and that whole who-owns-Cingular-now fiasco. Combine ever-fewer broadband pipe providers with legislation designed to give them practically dictatorial powers over what is and isn’t allowed on the Web, and you’ve just taken the baby seal that is the Internet economy and bashed its fuzzy little head in with a club.

Although I’m not yet 100 percent behind actually socializing bandwidth, the Internet’s pipes must remain neutral. If backbone providers get enough power to block independent services, then things like low-cost SMB VoIP from value providers such as Whaleback Systems are history. It’ll also kill a lot of the Internet entrepreneurial fervor that’s been bolstering a piece of America's (and probably to a greater extent India’s) economy of late.

I understand the drive for profit. But these telecom clowns are going overboard in a really nasty way. We’re already significantly behind the rest of the world in per capita broadband permeation, thanks to their insistence on hawking outdated technology. Now, they’re looking to kill a whole second economy in a greedy grab for profits they’ve really done nothing to deserve. Even Hollywood knows it: Long-term, Nash beats Gekko every time.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering how this relates to an Enterprise Windows column, consider what your outsourced Exchange hosting costs suddenly become when Verizon gets to crank up the hosting provider rates -- with no cap. Or your outsourced spam filtering. Or your Web hosting. Or that off-site Internet-based backup solution you’re using for disaster recovery. Or your branch office VPN costs. Or that neat little Web-based team collaboration and wiki service. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’m moaning about the Internet economy as though this is purely an entrepreneurial issue. But it’s not. This Net Neutering legislation allows the backbone bullies to differentiate between "Internet business" and "consumer" traffic. That means they could ratchet up the price on pretty much anything they can recognize above layer 5. No, they probably wouldn’t jack up your branch-office VPN costs if you’re managing that stuff in-house, but if you’re not, then they will ratchet it up on your VPN management provider. Or any similar outsourced service provider.

Which, of course, means those providers will have to try to pass those costs on to you. And there goes your outsourced IT cost savings. Whole new budget; whole new ball game.

Buy a few copies of your congressperson’s memoirs. Date your senator’s son or daughter. E-mail your governor. Do what you need to do, but help this Wyden guy, or we’re all going to suffer in a few years.