Why Telecom Carriers Should Be Turned into Dumb Pipes
Interfering with Internet Connectivity
There are several utilities that we use every day. Services like power and water are provided in an undifferentiated manner by the service companies to everyone at a flat rate regardless of the usage of the services. For example, if you buy a lightbulb that conserves electricity, your electric company will not charge you extra for the power used by it based on the logic that you are depriving them of income. Or if you use your allotment of water to wash your car, the water company will not discriminate against you based on the brand of car that you decide to wash. Apart from it being impossible to make such a determination, it is clearly unethical. Both the power and water companies are examples of "dumb pipes" that merely transmit services that we consume.
Why should the Internet not work in the same way? Why should we give the Internet service providers or the ISPs the power to regulate or otherwise modify the data streams that we receive from them? If you think that this is not a threat, think again. The entire debate about network neutrality revolves around this. Opponents of network neutrality claim that carriers should be given the right to discriminate against different types of data depending on the usage. This means for example that if they don't like you using an Internet-based application like VoIP which cuts deeply into their voice revenues, then they have the right to take action such as blocking or slowing down VoIP traffic or even charging you extra for it. This isn't as far-fetched as it may seem. ISPs in Europe are already doing this and are facing a tremendous amount of flak by the public and by governments.
Redefining ISPs As Utility Companies
At the heart of this, is whether or not we should define Internet service to be a utility. If so, it can come under regulation in the same way that power and electric companies have. ISPs will then be forced to compete only on the quality of their service and pricing. While this may bring down their margins and force them to compete, it is excellent for consumers who need nothing more than a stream of undifferentiated data flowing from their carriers. It is not the carrier's business which websites we visit and what Internet applications we use – whether it's gaming, VoIP, e-mail or browsing.
Net neutrality would be great for business VoIP that depends on the Internet for the delivery of voice services. SIP VoIP providers as a whole would benefit from legislation preventing the discrimination of Internet traffic. After all, if the consumer is willing to pay for it, why should the ISPs have any say in the usage of those bits?