Net Neutrality

NET NEUTRALITY….I’ve been trying to understand this whole “net neutrality” thing and I’ve failed utterly. I just can’t figure out the underlying issues.

On the one hand, the telecom industry says they just want to be able guarantee service levels (for a price) for high-value, high-bandwidth services like on-demand video. This does not seem very alarming to me. Companies already buy bigger pipes and negotiate quality-of-service agreements when they need guaranteed bandwidth, and that’s never caused any problems. Bloggers are accustomed to paying their hosts based on the bandwidth they plan to use, for example, and this seems like more of the same on a larger scale.

At the same time, the CEO of Qwest claims that “No one should deny or impede access to lawful sites on the Web. Everyone supports that position.” But in fact, last year a small broadband provider decided to block access to Vonage phone service ? so apparently support for that position isn’t quite as universal as Qwest’s CEO claims.

What’s more, if the real issue is that telecom companies want to be able to offer higher service levels to certain customers but would never reduce service levels for other customers ? well then, why not write that into law? Especially if “everyone” supports this position?

For the moment, then, I don’t know. Everything I can find on the subject is hopelessly vague about what the rules used to be, what they’re going to be, what the FCC will be able to do, and what the likely results will be. I’m confused and bewildered.

But I have a solution: I want Reed Hundt to chime in on the issue. I like his stuff over at TPM Cafe, he used to be chairman of the FCC, and I’d trust his judgment on this. So how about it, Reed? What’s the straight dope?

UPDATE: More here. (Much more.)

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