AT&T Chariman Ed Whitacre made seemingly outrageous comments in November about imposing additional charges on consumers or Google or Yahoo if we used “his” Internet pipes for things he didn’t approve of. Here’s my comments about that interview.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he was dead serious, and that the telecommunications companies have business plans with the potential to fundamentally change our Internet experience and hamper the free flow of online information. What’s more, they’re already embarked on the lobbying for changes in the law to permit them to exercise control over what is displayed in your web browser.
Here’s an article from the Washington Post about the ramifications of “network neutrality.” When you use your Internet connection today, the traffic moves as fast as your connection allows, regardless of whether you’re shopping at Amazon or using an instant messenger. The telcos have the technical ability to give priority to some kinds of traffic, and slow down or prevent other kinds of traffic. So far they haven’t done that, but they can think of a lot of ways to make money if they did. How about payments from Yahoo that cause Yahoo to appear quickly on your screen but slow Google down to a crawl? How about an extra nickel or dime from Apple every time you download a song from iTunes? How about blocking your Skype phone calls until you pay an additional fee to AT&T?
This is serious stuff. Your “right” to unfettered Internet access is not carved in stone.