What's nice about this article is how undriven it is, yet is still emphatic about what it is we should want and could have--if we'd all just wake up.
That's about the shape of it. The guys that have put us in a pretty pickle are lobbying to make it worse--much worse. The internet is like the goose that laid the golden egg; it's a mysterious gift that's produced unanticipated wealth. That wealth seems to have sprung up mostly because anybody could trade anything with anybody --information and ideas not only want to be free; they only flourish when they are. The telecoms look at all this wealth (which they did nothing to create) flowing through pipes they own by a bit of peculiarly American history and seem to think that smothering the goose that laid the golden eggs is a good idea. It wasn't in the fairy tale and it won't be in our real world either.
AT the top of my wish list for next year's Consumer Electronics Show is this: the introduction of broadband service across the country that is as up to date as that 103-inch flat-screen monitor just introduced by Panasonic. The digital lifestyle I see portrayed so alluringly in ads is not possible when the Internet plumbing in our homes is as pitiful as it is. The broadband carriers that we have today provide service that attains negative perfection: low speeds at high prices.
It gets worse. Now these same carriers - led by Verizon Communications and BellSouth - want to create entirely new categories of fees that risk destroying the anyone-can-publish culture of the Internet. And they are lobbying for legislative protection of their meddling with the Internet content that runs through their pipes. These are not good ideas.
The story goes on to document just how poorly we are doing vis-a-vis countries with an actual broadband policy. (100 megs for 25$? Japan. A Gig for 120? Sweden.) How much freedom to choose we've lost (Recall dialup ISPs, hundreds? Now our effective choices for the new broadband are 0, 1, and 2. Lafayette will join a vanishingly rare elite to have a paltry 3 choices.)
For the geekier among us this story reveals a new thing to worry about. Previously, we'd only had to worry that the providers (AOL, Google, Vonage, Netflix, etc.) would have to pay a surcharge they'd pass on to us to get decent service, and leave the public part of the net with only what's left over. We not have a bit more to worry about: exclusive provision. Where one company in each category is allowed to bid for not just decent service but the right to exclude its competitors. (This idea could only come from a monopoly like the Bells who gravitate to such things easily. Imagine: If you've got BellSouth you can only buy from NetFlix and get fast downloads. Or only search Google quickly, and Vonage? My guess is that they couldn't pay enough to make their service half so good as BellSouth's branded product. None of this is a joke, folks. It's happening now. And our good friend BellSouth is in the forefront:
In an interview, William L. Smith, the chief technology officer at BellSouth, described to me his company's trial offering in West Palm Beach, Fla., last year of a speedy download service for Movielink content. When asked whether BellSouth would offer its special service on an exclusive basis to a particular content site and agree to exclude the sponsor's rivals, he did not hesitate in treating the question as a matter of simply settling on the right price. The N.F.L. and Nascar strike exclusive distribution deals, he said. Why not network carriers?Companies like Google and Yahoo and everyone from Adobe to Microsoft to Lawrence Lessing and Vince Cerf object. The battle is far from lost but winning will take an aroused public. And this article is a good one to think on and to share with friends.