Ranting on America’s missing infrastructure

A brief rant on the the New York Times article Charging by the Byte to Curb Internet Traffic

For years, both kinds of Web surfers have paid the same price for access. But now three of the country’s largest Internet service providers are threatening to clamp down on their most active subscribers by placing monthly limits on their online activity.

One of them, Time Warner Cable, began a trial of “Internet metering” in one Texas city early this month, asking customers to select a monthly plan and pay surcharges when they exceed their bandwidth limit. The idea is that people who use the network more heavily should pay more, the way they do for water, electricity, or, in many cases, cellphone minutes.

That same week, Comcast said that it would expand on a strategy it uses to manage Internet traffic: slowing down the connections of the heaviest users, so-called bandwidth hogs, at peak times.

AT&T also said Thursday that limits on heavy use were inevitable and that it was considering pricing based on data volume. “Based on current trends, total bandwidth in the AT&T network will increase by four times over the next three years,” the company said in a statement.

All three companies say that placing caps on broadband use will ensure fair access for all users.

Come on, seriously?  Invoking water and electricity is to suggest supply is the chief constraint of the service.  Go to parts of the country or world were fresh water is plentiful and water charges drop.  The same holds true where electricity is cheap and plentiful (the Tennessee Valley for example).  So drop-kick that part of the argument. 

It’s the cell phone analogy that is fitting and exposes the real issue: a lack of infrastructure.  The United States, despite ads for “high speed Internet”, lags behind so many parts of the world in terms of real speed and robustness of the domestic information infrastructure. 

Pull back the curtain and these pricing schemes are attempts to cover the failure to develop the backbone and end point connectivity to support the products and services the same companies have been touting for years.  They won’t, as is argued, finance expanding the infrastructure.  The proposed fees don’t provide the incentive to do so. 

Video on the phone?  Great, Japan’s been doing that for years.  “High speed” Internet?  Great, Korea has 45mb to the home.  It’s all related. 

The Internet and its bandwidth are a public good in the Information Age.  It is the essential engine in our service economy that connects not only domestic audiences but external audiences as well. 

As such, the federal government must step in, as the governments of other countries have.  This isn’t unknown territory for our federal government.  During the last great bidirectional communications revolution – the telephone – the government pushed deployment everywhere. 

Without intervention, the Internet superhighway will be transformed into a road system with crumbling bridges with toll road bypasses.  Undoubtedly, Time Warner and others who are pushing for limits will exclude their branded content from the monthly limits, or in the extreme the creation of privileged clubs of access with ever steeper costs of joining. 

Rant over... back to work...

Cross-posted at CTLab.

See also: