Sen. Commerce: No “Independence” for the U.S. Net/ Case in Canada Illustrates Dangers with Broadband Gatekeepers

The vote on the new communications “reform” bill in the Senate was a victory for the nation’s communications giants. It sets the stage for the `pay as you surf, download, & post’ digital media system that is the business model for our broadband giants. The phone and cable companies wish to be first in line so they can—in their own words—monetize all digital communications. The reason they oppose network neutrality is simply because it would prevent them from readily tacking on a host of extra charges for both consumers and content providers. A net neutral U.S. Internet would also threaten their ability to ensure that their content—video games, movies, online gambling, etc—receive favorable transport, processing, and promotion. It’s great that so many committee Democrats have finally woken up to the threat (led there in part, ironically, by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me). The 11-11 tie on network neutrality should be a signal, however, that all must be done to prevent Sen. Steven’s absurd “Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act” from passing the full Senate. Among the give-aways to our new media conglomerates was a permanent ban on Internet taxation. This is a boon for a few online operators at the expense of education, public safety, health care and other community services. The vote to make the moratorium on Internet taxes permanent was 19-3 (helping lead the charge was Sen Allen (R-Va).

Meanwhile, up in Canada, we have another example about what happens when we permit broadband monopolists to control access via unfettered Quality of Service (QoS) pricing schemes. Shaw Communications, the leading Canadian cable company, is using its clout over broadband lines to derail competition in the voice-over-Internet-protocol (VOIP) market. Shaw claims that customers of Vonage and other competitors should pay it a $10 per month “QoS Enhancement” fee in order to ensure their calls get the same favorable treatment the cable company gives its own VOIP customers. According to press reports about the litigation between Shaw and Vonage, the cable company says its VOIP service is “offered over the operator’s QoS-enabled network, managed network, while Vonage’s service travels the public Internet and is open to packet delays and other inherent limitations.”

In other words, welcome to the wacky, undemocratic, and Citizen Kane-esqe world of the two-tiered Internet. Thank you Senator Stevens! Once again, building us in the U.S. the digital bridge to somewhere. Namely, the bank vaults of Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner.

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