For the Internet to flourish, we need a strong regulatory mechanism that prohibits discrimination of traffic by the Internet service providers or the ISPs. One of the reasons why the Internet has been such a democratizing influence on the world, is because the size and power of your business in the real world holds far less value in the virtual one. If you have a good product and a great website, it doesn’t matter where your office is, or how posh a neighborhood it’s located in. You can be a startup and disrupt the most established players in the industry with a good online presence and a great offering. But this powerful equalizing force is in danger of being sacrificed at the altar of vested interests that would seize any opportunity to squeeze more money out of those willing to pay in order to give them an unfair advantage in terms of how fast their site is served up to users.
VoIP is an example of an Internet technology that is seriously disrupting the entrenched establishment of the PSTN phone system. Normally this would not be a concern for the rest of us. After all, the Internet has already disrupted a large number of industries before. The Postal Service for example will bear ample testament to the fact! The real problem occurs because the industry that is being disrupted also belongs to the same companies that are providing us with the Internet service in the first place. For these companies, it is a form of cannibalization that they would like to halt as soon as possible. In a way, it’s a huge conflict of interest. Those who argue that Internet neutrality is a form of regulation by the government that isn’t called for in the private sector, ignore the fact that not only is the ISP business not a free market, the blatant conflict of interest prevents ISPs from providing the best service possible.
Just like AT&T was broken up decades ago for monopolistic behavior, I feel that ISPs should be split to separate the business of providing Internet services and phone services. Without this, there is every reason to believe that they will discriminate against the less profitable data services and seek to retain as many voice minutes as possible at the expenseo of the former.
The recent example of AT&T planning to charge more for FaceTime on the iPhone is an excellent example of policy abuse by a telecom carrier. Customers who have already paid for their data should not be asked to shell out more for the very same thing. Once the breach of network neutrality is accepted, more and more services will be discriminated against – especially VoIP which has the potential to be the biggest disrupter of them all.