Why Internet connectivity is not like any other utility

With the recent FCC ruling, which seems to be pushing the door closed on the "open Internet", fresh in everyone's mind, Comcast (also known as the 800 pound gorilla, or the "Evil Empire") is indicating that within five years, Internet usage will be metered like electricity or water. Kind of sounds like a utility, doesn't it? But, if Comcast and other Internet service providers (ISPs) are deemed to be utilities, then they would not be able to discriminate against consumers and content providers like they can now.

Comcast really wants it both ways. They want to tie up their cable TV offerings, restricting access to content that they have purchased, plus they want to either charge alternative content providers like Netflix or Amazon or put a "pay for usage" billing model on consumers. If I was Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Cox or any other ISP, I would want it that way too, but there is precedent to stop it.

Like electricity or water, there is a conveyance system (wires or pipes, respectively) which must be installed and maintained to provide the product, but unlike both, the ISPs are not creating the commodity being delivered. Without Amazon, Google, Netflix, this blog, Angry Birds, or any of millions of content providers, there would be no need for the ISP. There is no difference in their costs whether the Internet is running at capacity on their system or if it is dead quiet. (Don't give me an argument about how their air conditioning load increases with increased throughput... work with me here.)

ISPs already set arbitrary caps on bandwidth speed, which really is just a way to say that you can only get X amount of service if you run it at the maximum paid-for speed. They also have a cap of what the maximum amount of data is which can be transmitted before they have a right to either slow you down or cut you off. Apparently this is not enough for them. Now, they want to bill you for each megabyte you download, like the cell phone providers.

As time moves on, we will be using more, not less Internet, unlike electricity which can be conserved. This cap and the subsequent increased billing charges will introduce a chilling effect on new technology and business models which use the internet. Sure, the ISP may have to upgrade their infrastructure to accommodate increased bandwidth requirements, but isn't that what we are already paying more for?

It may take a while to get it through, but Comcast will get their way, if not in five years, then maybe six. Regardless of the time it takes, in this case, the rich will truly be getting richer and richer and richer.


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