Why Metered Broadband Wouldn't Work

Maybe nobody else is sad that Time Warner Cable has (for now) abandoned its foray into consumption-based Internet service pricing, but I am. I was all set for the company to become the poster child net neutrality--a topic that is hard for many people to understand--and why it really matters.

The idea behind net neutrality is that the owner of the plumbing should not care what the plumbing is used for or who uses it. This means that just because you are the local cable company, you cannot discriminate in how your Internet service is priced to benefit your other businesses. This is exactly what it looked like Time Warner was planning to do.

I strongly believe that Internet companies should provide either access or content, but not both. AT&T should not discriminate against Google because it has a deal with Yahoo. The Internet carrier should handle traffic for both companies equally.

Cable TV Protectionism

Downloading a 4GB movie should not, for example, be more expensive than downloading the same amount of business files, just because the Internet provider would prefer that you watch cable TV system instead.

In proposing what looked like Internet pricing intended to ward off competition to its cable TV business, Time Warner set off the sort of firestorm we have previously come to associate only with Facebook.

This time, however, congress was starting to get involved, and where congress goes the FCC soon follows. A Democrat-controlled FCC will probably not roll over for cable companies quite as easily as the Bush Administration's FCC used to.

Seeing the forces lining up against it, Time Warner bailed on the new pricing, at least for now. I expect it to show up again in somewhat different form sometime in the next few months.

There simply was no reasonable justification for the per-gigabyte pricing that Time Warning Cable was proposing. I cannot imagine a situation in which a gigabyte of Internet data should cost $1 from the cable company, yet that is what Time Warner was planning to charge. Unlimited use for $150-a-month would have been an outrage.

Consumers have won the first round of this battle, but Time Warner is crafty. Heck, the whole cable TV industry seems to have no shame whatsoever when it comes to raising prices.

Carriers: No Stipulations, Please

The carriers very much want the FCC to stay as far away as possible from the network neutrality debate. They especially do not want the $7.2 billion in stimulus money earmarked for broadband expansion to come with stipulations attached.

That is reason enough for me to make sure our money is properly looked after. Uncle Sam will be an investor in our broadband build-out and he is a socially conscious investor, too. If we are spending public money to improve Internet access, that money needs to have conditions attached. And these conditions need to insure net neutrality.

Additionally, Internet providers should be required to separate their content business from their carrier business. There should be a Chinese wall between the two, assuring that the content business pays the same about to have its data carried on the company's Internet as any other user.

Anything that hinders Internet neutrality hinders the development of new technologies and new business models. In a major recession, that is the last thing we need.

David Coursey tweets as dcoursey and can be reached using the contact form found at www.coursey.com/contact.

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