by Gary Beach

Net Neutrality: Time to Get it Right

May 13, 2010
InternetInternet Service Providers

Using the Internet to transfer rich media means guzzling bandwidth. Setting price per use makes sense.

Three cheers for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Its ruling on the Comcast v. FCC case, over whether the ISP can throttle BitTorrent traffic, sent Net neutrality back to the drawing board. Net neutrality—the FCC-supported concept that would require Internet service companies such as Verizon, Comcast and ATaannddT to give Web users unfettered access to content regardless of how much bandwidth it consumes—was ill-conceived from the get-go.

When it comes to using the Internet to transfer rich media like video, business usage isn’t the biggest bandwidth consumer. Sure, that might change as offerings like telepresence are more widely deployed, but for now, Net neutrality legislation is aimed at private use.

The primary target is, in my opinion, the group Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, labels “digital natives”—young people who have had access to technology from birth. They believe the Internet was created in Genesis chapter one, that bandwidth is infinite and free, and it is their unalienable right to consume as much of it as they want. Never mind any additional usage costs; most of their bills are paid by their parents, anyway.

ISPs share responsibility for the Net neutrality mess. They built their satellite, DSL and cable infrastructures on a Field of Dreams-style market-share plan rather than realistic billing plans based on bandwidth consumption. The ISPs built it and, oh boy, did customers ever come to the Web, bandwidth-hogging applications in tow.

The big picture is this: bandwidth is finite and demand is only going to increase because businesses are just starting to leverage bit-consuming video apps, and there are still 100 million Americans who have no access to broadband, according to a recently released FCC report. And no one wants Net cops deciding what traffic goes through unfettered and what gets throttled.

There’s a simple solution: You pay for what you get. If you “get” more, as in more bits consumed, you pay more. The ISPs can solve this problem overnight by studying the early pricing models of AOL.

Write me at and I’ll send you a copy of the FCC plan. It’s a good starting point.

Gary Beach, Publisher Emeritus