Monday, December 15, 2008

Network neutrality, which could be useful for rural economic development, loses influential backers

Even as the election results seemed to make more likely a law mandating network neutrality -- no special treatment for any user of the Internet -- the principle has lost "some powerful defenders," namely Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., report Vishesh Kumar and Christopher Rhoads of The Wall Street Journal.

Google "has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content," and Microsoft and Yahoo "have withdrawn quietly from a coalition formed two years ago to protect network neutrality," the Journal reports. "Each company has forged partnerships with the phone and cable companies. In addition, prominent Internet scholars, some of whom have advised President-elect Barack Obama on technology issues, have softened their views on the subject." As a candidate, Obama strongly endorsed net neutrality, joining a diverse coalition that included such groups as the National Rifle Association, concerned about preserving freedom of expression.

Supporters of neutrality argue that "the Internet could become a medium where large companies ... would control both distribution and content," the reporters write. They quote Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press: "It would mean the first part of your business plan would be a deal with AT&T to get into their super tier. That is anathema to a culture of innovation." Other advocates say neutraility is important for rural areas to play catch-up technologically and economically.

On the other hand, "Phone and cable companies argue that Internet content providers should share in their network costs, particularly with Internet traffic growing by more than 50 percent annually, according to estimates," the writers note. "Carriers say that to keep up with surging traffic, driven mainly by the proliferation of online video, they need to boost revenue to upgrade their networks." The story by Kumar and Rhoads is an excellent summary of the issue. To read it, click here.

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