let phone giants 'Ctrl' what you get on the 'Net
USA TODAY EDITORIAL
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Telecoms trying to build toll booths on information
In the history of great ideas, the Internet will surely rank
near the top. In a relatively short time, it has made vast
amounts of information searchable, sortable and readily
available with a few key strokes.
Much of the Internet's appeal is that no one controls it in
the way that, say, a grocery store decides which brands to
stock. Within its virtual walls, a start-up such as MySpace
or Craigslist can surge to prominence entirely on the power
of an idea.
Now, some very old-school companies want to change all
that. Using market dominance achieved through the relative
scarcity of lines into people's homes, phone companies such
as BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T are eyeing a system that
would demand that operators of search engines, e-commerce
sites and other Web applications pay them fees or be
relegated to the slow lane.
Here's how AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre put it while discussing
Vonage, Google and Yahoo with
magazine: "What they would like to do is use my pipes free,
but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent
this capital and we have to have a return on it."
Let us count the ways why this vision by the
telecommunications companies is misguided:
• It shows a complete lack of comprehension of why the
Internet is so attractive. It is not, like television, a
pipeline for delivering content and advertising to
consumers. It's an interactive medium that empowers
individuals to communicate, join virtual communities, shop,
search, prioritize information and engage in an evolving
list of other activities.
• Google, Yahoo and other companies are not freeloading off
of anyone. Their data flow over the lines of companies such
as AT&T only if
AT&T's customers pay for it.
• Search engines, e-commerce sites and other major
destinations have invested billions of their own dollars on
servers, routers and software to make the Internet work.
The only difference is that these companies do not have a
potential chokehold over the Internet's on-ramps.
• Phone companies achieved dominant positions through their
origins as part of the Ma Bell monopoly. It would have been
unthinkable for them to demand royalties from catalogue
sales over toll-free numbers when they were treated as
"common carriers." But now they feel empowered to shake
down companies such as Amazon or Travelocity.
Competition might keep the phone companies from putting the
squeeze on website operators. That would be the best
outcome. But consumers in many parts of the country have
little choice in broadband, so Congress is appropriately
exploring legislation that would lay out a principle of "Net
neutrality" that would require all websites to receive equal
Telecommunications companies say they are not altering the
Internet, merely offering a new ultra-high-speed tier of
service on top of it. Don't be fooled. Once they begin
choosing search engines, auction sites and other
applications for their premium service, they alter the
entire competitive landscape.
In this new world, companies would have to spend more time
kowtowing to the likes of AT&T and less time innovating.
That doesn't sound like such a great idea.
We'll give users choices
Companies should be free to offer new services and pricing
By Walter McCormick
Local telecommunications companies have a
150-year tradition of connecting people with each other. As
we invest billions of dollars in new, advanced broadband
networks, our commitment remains the same: We will connect
you to whomever you choose, and we will not block, impair,
or degrade any content, applications or services. The
Internet freedom you have today, you will have tomorrow.
Government has kept its hands off the Internet, and it has
flourished. Telecom companies have not sought to hinder the
Internet's growth -- indeed, just the opposite: We have
invested, grown and expanded the networks that make up this
extraordinary resource. Today's DSL, cable, wireless and
satellite companies vigorously compete to offer a faster,
more robust Internet experience.
Consumers are in control via new pricing and service
packages being made available everyday -- witness AT&T's
announcement of $12.99-per-month DSL access. Consumers
expect and demand Internet freedom. If telecom companies
don't provide it, they will do business with someone else.
To meet ever-increasing customer expectations, the nation's
telecom companies are investing in next-generation networks
that will offer consumers even more choices -- for video and
for new services and applications such as health monitoring,
telemedicine and home security. This new marketplace should
be allowed to develop, without government micromanaging it.
It is only through investment that new networks will be
built and Americans will enjoy the full promise of the
information age. Experts predict that demand for new
services will require a 400% increase in bandwidth over the
next decade. Therefore, all who use, enjoy, or profit from
the Internet have a common interest policies that promote
investment in network infrastructure.
No one in today's debate opposes Internet freedom. We
differ only in this: We do not believe that now is the time
to close the chapter on Internet innovation and progress by
turning to government-managed competition and central
planning, no matter how well-intentioned.
Those who invest in advanced fiber, wireline and wireless
broadband networks should be free to offer new services, and
new pricing and service options, in a marketplace
characterized by robust competition and consumer choice.
Walter McCormick is
president and CEO of the United States Telecom Association.