The net neutrality case study, cont.

Rob Domanski has been watching the net neutrality debate and has a reasonable description of his take. First is a description of how Netflix’s Survival Depends on Net Neutrality…

Comcast, one of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), decided to charge a new fee for companies that stream video at high bandwidth levels. This new fee puts online video companies like Netflix at a competitive disadvantage versus subscription-based Cable Television providers like Comcast.

That was the immediate stimulus for much of the fear used to promote the idea of net neutrality. As a story in ComputerWorld noted, the crux of the issue is a common technology cycle: one technology enables an idea and then another idea pushes it to its limits causing ‘crisis’ which requires innovation and new technologies to solve. The Netflix, Comcast, and L3 brouhaha is just this sort of thing as the I’net has allowed people to communicate in ways never before imagined. Netflix imagined, and implemented, its end of an idea whose requirements changed the game plan for those in line between Netflix and its customers. One story says Netflix, just one I’net vender, was taking up 70% of the communications resources during prime time. The growth from 0% to 70% usage of a communication company’s resources inside of a year or so presents significant challenges. What we see right now is the businesses involved trying to figure out how to meet those challenges.

Rob thinks we need to Re-Frame the Debate. The problem with his ‘re-framing’ lie in his assumptions.

The political debate over Net Neutrality consists of one side – the ISPs and giant telecoms – who want to get rid of Net Neutrality so that they can charge fees for accessing different types of sites, or block them altogether.

On the other side of the debate are small website owners who want to keep the internet neutral and a level playing field.

He says it isn’t a “battle between The People versus The Man” yet that is exactly the characterization the he suggests in describing the sides of the issue. But he does identify the basic value conflict:

The political issue is about whether or not the government should actually guarantee that the internet remain neutral through legislation.

And he identifies one of the major difficulties that some see as a reason to keep government out of it.

It seems to me that the F.C.C.’s latest Net Neutrality rules are just like others they’ve attempted in the past – hollow and merely symbolic.

What is missing in Rob’s comments is the end user. That end user is the engine that drives the whole mechanism. A small business on the web would not exist if an end user was not there as a customer. Comcast and other cable companies would have let the telephone companies keep the I’net access business to themselves if they didn’t think they could make money selling access via their plant. L3 would have a much smaller business if it only provided WAN services for big business and didn’t have all that end user traffic that Comcast gathers for them.

It is the end user that is trying to figure out whether to use their market muscle exercised by their choice about where and how to spend their money or whether it is their political choices that they are going to use to get what they want. This story has played out many times before. The latter choice usually fails. The former usually succeeds, often beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. But it isn’t a clear cut binary thing, it is a sliding scale and the real issue comes down to just where to place the marker between the two choices. That is the political ideology choice that is being hashed out now for this case.

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