One of my favorite website Bloggingheads.tv hosted a great conversation several weeks ago between Kevin Glass of Townhall and Timothy Lee of Vox on the topic of Net Neutrality (of which I’ve written most frequently about here and here). The conversation was very interesting, Timothy Lee is one of the best on the topic (and is someone I’ve been reading since my freshman year of college when he was writing for Ars Technica) but I had several very strong reactions to some of what was said. I’ve embedded the ‘diavlog’ below and bulleted some of my comments on it below.
1) Keven Glass asks if slow lane would prevent startups from competing, or if the slow lane would be “fast enough”.
Consider Comcast’s interests. They want to charge as many companies as possible for the fast lane. If a slow lane startup could compete with a fast lane incumbent wouldn’t Comcast want to move the line so that the startup would have to pay? On top of that if the two could compete why would the incumbent be paying for a fast lane in the first place?
2) Timothy Lee makes a good point that the future of high bandwidth apps is unknown, but doesn’t go far enough. It’s not just a matter of the internet evolving at a slower speed, it’ that the internet evolves in a way that maximized profit for Comcast. In his hypothetical it’s not that YouTube comes out in 2009 instead of 2010, it’s that Comcast charges Google and through it’s contract has influence over what kinda of services YouTube can offer.
I know he gave a caveat but this statement is ridiculous and echoes the false conservative talking point. Here are a few examples off the top of my head. Just look at the record.
- 2005: ISP Madison River blocks Vonage VoIP traffic. FCC steps in to make it stop.
- 2007: Comcast is accused of blocking p2p traffic, it takes years before the FCC responds to the complaint and forces Comcast to stop.
- 2009: Verizon blocks tethering apps. Only through a contract related to a spectrum auction are they legally forced to stop the practice.
- 2010: Comcast says that watching video through their Xfinity app would not count against Comcast’s data cap. This favors Comcast’s own video traffic over competitors.
- 2012: AT&T block FaceTime traffic on it’s network. Months later caves to pressure from the FCC and public.
- 2013: ESPN enters into talks with Wireless carriers for “Sponsored Data”. A scheme that favors ESPN traffic over other traffic
4) On the point of ISP competition and Verizon FiOS. Verizon has entered into an partnership with Comcast to stop expanding FiOS. Basically Verizon will do wireless, Comcast will do wireline, and they will cross promote each other’s products (instead of competing). See http://allthingsd.com/20111202/comcast-and-verizon-merge-without-merging/ (or read Susan Crawford’s awesome book “Captive Audience).
5) Tim Lee says the current situation in regards to competition and internet speed is not terrible, “we’re not a country with only one telco”, but there might be a better counter factual. Might be?! Just look at other countries! South Korea has speeds over 100x as fast at half the price, and we rank 35th globally.
6) I just want to say that I think this debate lacks an imagination of how the internet could change. In one quick example imagine a scenario where Comcast offers a cheap $10/mo package where Facebook, Netflix, ESPN, and YouTube all run great but everything else runs very slow and also counts against a 5GB data cap. This plan become wildly popular because it is so cheap and “good enough” for most users. Facebook, Netflix and the others pay Comcast large amounts of money to be on this plan (basically subsiding the customer). New startups are unable to reach these consumers without 1st cutting a similar deal with Comcast (something neither Comcast nor the Facebook incumbents have an interest in)
PS: Tim! Do another Bloggingheads!