[Chtechcomm] Charging for Content delivery

Terri Buckner tbuckner at ibiblio.org
Sat Dec 3 09:59:34 EST 2005


  Executive Wants to Charge for Web Speed

    Some Say Small Firms Could Be Shut Out of Market Championed by
    BellSouth Officer

By Jonathan Krim
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005; Page D05

A senior telecommunications executive said yesterday that Internet 
service providers should be allowed to strike deals to give certain Web 
sites or services priority in reaching computer users, a controversial 
system that would significantly change how the Internet operates.

William L. Smith, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based BellSouth 
Corp., told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider 
such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for 
the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc.

Or, Smith said, his company should be allowed to charge a rival 
voice-over-Internet firm so that its service can operate with the same 
quality as BellSouth's offering.

Network operators can identify the digital "packets" of content moving 
through their wires from sites and services and can block some or put 
others at the head of the stream.

But Smith was quick to say that Internet service providers should not be 
able to block or discriminate against Web content or services by 
degrading their performance.

Rather, he said, a pay-for-performance marketplace should be allowed to 
develop on top of a baseline service level that all content providers 
would enjoy.

"If I go to the airport, I can buy a coach standby ticket or a 
first-class ticket," Smith said. "In the shipping business, I can get 
two-day air or six-day ground."

Smith said his company supports the latest draft of a House 
telecommunications bill that would prohibits network operators from 
impeding Internet content but allow the type of marketplace Smith envisions.

Several big technology firms and public interest groups say that 
approach would enshrine Internet access providers as online toll booths, 
favoring certain content and shutting out small companies trying to 
compete with their offerings.

"Prioritization is just another word for degrading your competitor," 
said Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights 
advocacy group. "If we want to ruin the Internet, we'll turn it into a 
cable TV system" that carries programming from only those who pay the 
cable operators for transmission.

In a recent letter to Congress, a coalition of technology companies 
called on members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to 
strengthen the draft bill's "network neutrality" provisions, some of 
which were recently changed in response to lobbying by telephone and 
cable firms.

"The incredible potential of broadband will be severely compromised if 
network operators are permitted to be the gatekeepers of the Internet, 
deciding what content, applications and services succeed or fail on the 
Internet," wrote the coalition, which includes Amazon.com Inc., eBay 
Inc., Google and IAC/InterActive Corp.

Consumer groups wonder, for example, how any Web start-up that might 
want to challenge an incumbent could expect to outspend it to get top or 
even equal performance over a network charging for the privilege.

Smith, echoing recent sentiments by AT&T Inc. chief executive Edward E. 
Whitacre Jr., responded that network operators must be free to control 
the type and quality of service on the system in which they have 
invested heavily.

Legislating otherwise "would be the same thing as saying to Google, 'I 
think we ought to have regulation on Google that says when I enter a 
search term, the top search result is always a random event,' " Smith 
said, claiming that Google allows clients to pay to influence the 
ranking of search results. In fact, Google does not allow payments to 
influence general search results, although advertisers pay for top 
billing on the lists that run on the right side of Google's pages.

Smith said the ability to prioritize traffic would benefit consumers, 
such as with online services providing medical alerts. And he said his 
company wants to be able to assure vendors such as online-gaming firms 
that their subscribers will get top performance even when there is heavy 
network traffic, which can slow a system.

Smith said BellSouth is especially concerned about new-generation 
television services it wants to provide via the Internet that would 
require large amounts of bandwidth.

Allowing it to give priority to TV traffic would ensure that television 
quality does not decline when other heavy-bandwidth applications are 
used simultaneously.

Sohn said claims of bandwidth scarcity are overblown. The real agenda, 
she said, is to put rival services at a disadvantage.

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