A Face For Radio (‘Net Neutrality’ Edition)

If they can’t find anyone better, I’m going to be on American Public Media’s (NPR) Marketplace later this morning, at least in the West Coast edition of the Morning Report. The interview was prompted by an article in the Wall Street Journal. No, not yesterday’s piece by Jess Bravin which quotes me on Alito and the Unitary Executive. The subject was today’s article by Dionne Searcey and Amy Schatz, “Phone Companies Set Off A Battle Over Internet Fees; Content Providers May Face Charges for Fast Access; Billing the Consumer Twice?”,

Large phone companies, setting the stage for a big battle ahead, hope to start charging Google Inc., Vonage Holdings Corp. and other Internet content providers for high-quality delivery of music, movies and the like over their telecommunications networks.

BellSouth Corp. said it is in early talks with Internet movie companies and at least one gaming company with the aim of striking agreements on fees to guarantee fast content delivery over the Internet. Movielink LLC, a joint-venture of five major movie studios that offers movies to consumers over the Internet, said it has discussed the issue with BellSouth. Meanwhile, AT&T Corp. executives have expressed support for charging companies to ensure that their content gets priority delivery, and Verizon Communications Inc. Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg yesterday said he might favor reaching deals with companies to do the same. “We have to make sure they don’t sit on our network and chew up our capacity,” Mr. Seidenberg told reporters.

The phone companies envision a system whereby Internet companies would agree to pay a fee for their content to receive priority treatment as it moves across increasingly crowded networks. Those that don’t pay the fee would find their transactions with Internet users — for games, movies and software downloads, for example — moving across networks at the normal but comparatively slower pace. Consumers could benefit through faster access to content from companies that agree to pay the fees.

My main point in the interview with Janet Babin (although you never know what part of the tape they will use…) was that we can’t trust the market to sort this one out, as we might usually want to, do because — due to regulatory choices by the current administration — there isn’t true competition for the provision of household broadband. Instead most consumers face a monopolist or at best a DSL/Cable duopoly. If we had true competition at the consumer endpoint we at least have some hope that the outcome would preserve the public goods aspects have interoperability and a place for the small and quirky.

So for me the issue isn’t exactly regulation to achieve “net neutrality” except as a second best. The issue is keeping the consumer from being made captive in the first place.

Update: They used a short quote. But identified me as “William” Froomkin. (I’m told it will be fixed for the second feed.)

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One Response to A Face For Radio (‘Net Neutrality’ Edition)

  1. DILBERT DOGBERT says:

    Yikes!!! The phone guys want to turn loose Google and others to find ways around their monopoly??? This may not be a smart idea.
    Time will tell.

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