Apr 8, 2010

News Flash: $10 fee for 65mph on Thruway

Net Neutrality is back on the table

FCC's broadband authority is limited

Bipartisan stupidity: Dem judge goes Republican!

New York State highway officials today announced a two-tier pricing plan for users of the NYS Thruway. Starting Monday, drivers will be given the option of paying extra for being allowed to proceed at the legal speed limit.

For $10 per day (or $1,000 per year), drivers are given a sticker and RFID chip that allows a single vehicle to utilize the state's super highway at speeds up to 65mph. Those opting not to pay the surcharge – levied on top of the normal tools – are limited to 40 mph in a non-passing lane.

“It's all about choice, and that's what we are delivering,” said NYS DOT spokesman Neil Conway. “The faster you drive, the more you should pay because of a variety of reasons, including that fact that you are causing more wear and tear on the roadway and are using more gas. But not all drivers have a requirement to go at 65mph, so they are not being forced to bear this cost.”

Substantial discounts are available for truck fleets with a minimum of one hundred vehicles and for NYS government employees.

April Fools! Oh yeah, we're a week late on that, aren't we? But what's not so funny is that this scenario is just the type of standard that can now be applied to internet traffic.

Yes, folks, Net Neutrality is back in the news. Just when we thought that the new clear-thinking, business friendly, “we get it” regime at the Federal Communication Commission would retire this pay-to-play scheme to the dustbin of history, along comes a federal judge to say “uh-uh, not so fast here boys.”

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the FCC does not have authority to regulate the treatment of content running through broadband network. So now the mega oligarchies (Time Warner, Comcast, etc) can get back to licking their chops over the prospect of setting pricing schedules that established two classes of internet speed: slow lane and fast lane. So, if you don't want to have visitors to your fancy new e-commerce portal wait three minutes for the home page to load, you need to pay the piper, partner – 'cus your deep pocketed competitor already has.

Now the arguments against this insanity could take up several pages, and all of a sudden I don't want to be doing anything that backs up the toilet here. But let's focus on one single point here; and that is to look at the major argument given by the net-networks on this issue:

Their Argument: Bandwidth is a limited commodity. The more traffic that is flowing through the pipes, the more congested those pipes become. It all comes down to certain interests “hogging” that bandwidth. Those hogs need to pay. Rather than resorting back to a metering method on the end-user (i.e., the consumer), we are prefer to charge on the supply side; to those that are distributing the content.

OK: on the face of it; it's not a bad argument. But here's the problem: we're talking VIDEO here. As the web advances deeper and deeper in to its full blown multimedia phase (hello iPad!), we have bandwidth hungry video files taking up large chunks of that aforementioned limited commodity. Yes, the web is suddenly a legitimate video distribution mechanism, which in turn makes it a a competitive alternative to the older distribution channels, namely over-the-air and cable television. And guess who's in the cable television distribution business? Yes Sir: Comcast and Time Warner.

What we have then, is the ability of a commercial entity to TAX its competitors. Comcast might determine that Hula is drawing eyeballs away from its cable channels, and react by sending Hula a bill for a few million dollars in return for guaranteeing reasonable access (speed) by visitors to its video streaming. Hula executives might say 'uncle' and pay it, or they'll arrange for lunch at the 21 Club and swing a merger deal with the enemy and retire to the French Riviera for the rest of their lives.

Tilted playing fields. Blackmail. Media consolidation. Private interests usurping the public interest. A past gov't investment rewarding a handful of corporate players. Less consumer choice. Diminished creative innovation. Just what we need at this stage of the game, isn't it?

As of this week, it's 2001 all over again!


Anonymous said...

I often feel the urge to stand in the middle of the main street in my town and scream at the top of my lungs. Just to see the reactions.

Anonymous said...

So what fo you think of the Tea Bagger thing, Professor?