Paying For Pipes: Framing The Debate


In some ways, the recent decision of AOL and Yahoo to charge commercial mailers for assuring safe passage of their mail bears a great resemblance to the telecom argument that they should be paid for commercial traffic on their pipes. (Just wait until BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T charge Yahoo and AOL extra for moving that mail through their pipes.) Ditto for the coverage, which bounces between framing the issue as a way to help consumers, a pragmatic move by distributors and a blow against net neutrality. Case in point: A USA Today article this morning that starts out by asserting that bottlenecks are increasing because of bandwidth-intensive apps and services like video, then continues in PR-like terms: “To address the problem, BellSouth and AT&T, formerly SBC, plan to offer Web content providers new fee-based services that would assure speedy delivery of movies, games and other offerings over DSL broadband lines. Verizon is also considering enhanced services but has been vague about its plans.” The story goes into the debate but the framing shifts the tone of the discussion; the telecoms are doing consumers a favor by adding more access charges. It leaves a different aura when the argument starts off based on the telecoms’ desire to recoup investments.

— BellSouth is in talks with five companies, including MovieLink. For instance, CTO Bill Smith tells USAT, the telecom might charge Movielink 10 percent of its download fee for a movie to ensure speedy downloads.

Another article in today’s Washington Post picks up on Verizon SVP John Thorne’s comments at a lunch celebrating the 10th anniversary of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It is time, he told the audience, to end Google’s free lunch. “The network builders are spending a fortune constructing and maintaining the networks that Google intends to ride on with nothing but cheap servers. … It is enjoying a free lunch that should, by any rational account, be the lunch of the facilities providers.” That’s the pragmatic frame, devoid of any artifice.

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