Talking Net Neutrality on NPR

by Ryan Singel on December 8, 2010

NPR’s Talk of the Nation kindly invited me on last week to explain what the net neutrality debate is all about, and what it means for regular net users.

I’m afraid I got a bit too technical, having been used to writing for Wired.com’s tech savvy audience. I learned one thing — which is never mention peer-to-peer on the radio, and I failed to make clear two key points.

1. The openness of the internet has led to astounding innovation, ranging from Yahoo to Google to Facebook to YouTube to Pandora to Craigslist to Skype to the explosion in online publishing. That’s purely a function of the internet being open to all comers and not having a pay any special fees, beyond renting a server and paying for bandwidth.

2. There’s a very complicated debate about what internet service providers (ISPs are the cable or telephone company you pay to connect to the internet) can and cannot do, and choosing wrongly might stifle continued innovation on the net.

3. ISPs have a vested interest in trying to extract as much money as they can and changing the net’s architecture to bring them more profits. They would rather do that than add more infrastructure to handle the growing traffic.

4. Internet traffic is cheap. Time Warner cable spends half the revenue it gets from cable video subscriptions to pay for programming. Time Warner’s internet service pays about 3% of the revenue it gets from subscriptions to pay for delivering your emails and the videos you watch. And the price of that keeps falling.

5. Net neutrality has some simple principles, though they get very thorny when you get into the details. Basically, the idea is that users should be able to use the computers, software and online services of their choice and ISPs should not interfere with that, especially when it offers a service (video cable) that competes with a service you want to use (YouTube).

Anyhow, for those who want to listen, here’s my interview with Tony Cox on NPR.

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