AUSWR
The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

Get What You Pay For
By Richard C. Notebaert
The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

There's some sleight-of-hand going on in cyber circles that would make David Copperfield envious.  A handful of the world's biggest corporations are waging a campaign to redefine "Net neutrality" and, unfortunately, it's the customer that's disappearing from the debate.  In the end, customers -- not special interest groups -- should be able to decide the level of Internet experience available to them.

According to the FCC, Net neutrality means that providers of Internet services must allow unfettered consumer access to the Internet.  No one should deny or impede access to lawful sites on the Web.  Everyone supports that position.

But some very big corporations are trying to redefine Net neutrality away from a focus on access, and toward something far more nebulous and self-serving.  Case in point -- assume an online movie provider negotiates a commercial agreement with a company like Qwest to guarantee download speeds of, say, five megabits per second, for all its customers.  That's a pretty good idea in a world where every company is trying to differentiate itself from its competitors.

"Not so fast," cry the naysayers.  They claim that the idea of a premium level of service violates Net neutrality because that online movie company's competitors may not want to offer their customers the same benefits.  Essentially, they argue that doing this would give some content providers an advantage over those that choose not to provide this service.

Well, yes it would.  As an industry, we've always sold bigger pipes and faster service to those who wish to buy them.  And yes, I suspect much of that enhanced capacity has been bought to give the purchaser an edge.  That's how a competitive marketplace works.

Say you decide to buy sweaters for holiday gifts.  You calculate the price, add the cost for standard delivery, and send in your order.  But L.L. Bean says "Hey, in the spirit of the season, we're going to provide express delivery at no extra cost to the customer.  We'll work with Fed Ex to cover the gap between standard and expedited service."  Would we get government involved to stop it?  Would it even occur to us to object?  If Lands' End said, "Not fair," would we rally to its aid?  And would the fact that other outdoor clothing providers might one day decide to enter the market justify turning a history and tradition of business practice on its head?  Not a chance.

While that scenario illustrates the principles involved, we could just as easily cite actual services that companies like Qwest currently provide to help businesses better serve their customers and differentiate themselves from their competitors.  Consider 800 numbers.  Yes, the residential customer already pays for the ability to place calls.  But that does not mean a business cannot pay for additional capabilities that will facilitate that customer's ability to reach the business in a faster, cheaper or easier way.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and the commission have already made positive moves away from over-regulation of broadband service.  They have deliberately moved toward open and fully competitive markets to the benefit of customers and the prosperity of the Internet.

It's essential that all decision makers continue to support true Net neutrality, as interpreted by the FCC.  This will enable companies to compete, thrive and meet the needs of their customers.  And it will put an end to the distortion of this admirable objective into a self-serving concept that was never intended.

Mr. Notebaert is the chairman and CEO of Qwest Communications.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114360648777910921-search.html?KEYWORDS=Qwest&COLLECTION=wsjie/6month