Today’s Wall Street Journal has a nice article on the telco industry’s latest idea for a good money making venture: two tiered access to the internet. The idea here is that as companies like Google, Yahoo and other corporate titans like WFMU provide more video and audio for consumers on-line, “someone has to pay for it”. Vonage and other VOIP providers also might fall into this bucket.
To drive this point home, a Bellsouth spokesman in this WSJ article complains about Google’s freeloading ways as follows: “During the Hurricanes, Google didn’t pay to have the DSL restored. We’re paying all the money.”
If like me you thought that the $30-$80 you send to your phone company every month for basic service constitutes “paying for it”, think again. What telcos want to start doing is charging people like Google and Vonage big piles of money so that their content gets to consumers in a fast carpool lane while the content providers that don’t pay up (and their customers) gets stuck on a less glamorous road with more traffic, fewer lanes and perhaps a few potholes. Needless to say all these costs eventually will get handed down the consumers, effectively making them pay twice for service.
Here at WFMU, where a hefty chunk of a non-profit budget goes to providing 5 live streams and over five years worth of archived audio to listeners, the idea of tiered internet access, as you might imagine, doesnt sound like a very good idea. In a strange twist, one of the regular villains of Beware of the Blog actually plays the role of a possible hero here: the FCC.
As a condition of many of the recent mergers, the FCC has made sure that companies agree to observe “Net Neutrality” which argues that “owners of phone and cable networks can’t dictate how a consumer uses the internet or discriminate against any internet content, regardless of source” (WSJ).
I first saw the term “two tier” internet pop up on Slashdot a few weeks ago in an article about a bill currently being drafted by two republican congressmen (Joe Barton of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan) that would essentially bring an end to the idea of “net neutrality”. BoingBoing has also had a few posts about this sort of thing slipping into ridiculous terms of service for EVDO (high speed mobile access) connectivity from companies like Cingular and Verizon. Shouldnt anyone spending $50 a month for EVDO access be able to stream whatever they want to on their phone?
The good news? With so many phone and cable options for net connectivity someone is bound to realize that people want unfiltered access to the internet and that if they pay for bandwith, they excpect to receive it. If the two tier internet does indeed come to be than companies shouldnt be surprised to see lots of customers jumping ship to whoever provides internet service as we currently know it.
As for Google, in yet another display of how smart they are, they have supposedly been looking into buying dark fiber for quite a while now, perhaps in an effort to build their own network and bypass the telcos all together. Should be interesting.
The article in the WSJ is entitled "Phone Comapnies Set Off a Battle Over Internet Fees". No link available as WSJ online is paid-only.