Sean’s Obsessions

Sean Walberg’s blog

Bell South, and Charging for Premium Service

Many sites are reporting that Bell South wants to charge content providers to “to reliably and speedily deliver their content and services.”

It’s an interesting thought, with many good arguments for and against.

On the surface, it may appear that BS is trying to have their cake and eat it too. People using their network pay for the access already, either by cash or reciprocal traffic arrangements. So, company X may connect to provider Y who in turn connects to BS. Y pays BS for the traffic it uses and X pays Y. BS may connect to another ISP who agrees to a reciprocal arrangement whereby each carrier will carry the other’s traffic free of charge.

In this scenario, the network is paid for, and any argument about “the Internet is getting faster and we can’t keep up” should be able to be taken care of by BS charging more to Y who passes it on to X should X be the person using the traffic.

On the other hand, one could look upon this as a value-add. “Yahoo!, pay me, and I’ll make sure your traffic has priority on my network”. (As an aside, giving traffic priority doesn’t always refer to a strict priority queue where Yahoo! always beats out Google and other traffic. It could be a guaranteed portion of the pipe) From this perspective, it seems reasonable to auction off different priorities within the BS network, assuming there is a market.

Of course, the “value” part of “value-add” is dubious. BS isn’t the whole Internet, and the hop-by-hop nature of the Internet means that your traffic will only experience the increased performance over the BS network. If your cable modem network is pinned, this won’t help you.

Now that I write it out, I’m starting to think the free market approach is better. One of several things will happen:

- People will pay. By this, I mean the ultimate end product is priced such that people buy it, and the content provider maintains a satisfactory profit
- People won’t pay. If I’m only willing to spend $1 on a music download, and I won’t spend $1.05 to have it download 10 seconds faster, then no one will choose the high quality option, and we’re back to the Internet we have today where all traffic is equal
- It won’t work for the reasons cited before. Other carriers could choose to alter their peering to avoid the BS network, or the benefit of the service could be so small that people won’t pay.

Either way, I don’t see a long term problem. The market should take care of it, whether or not it’s good for BS is the question.

All that said, the old adage often accredited to John Gilmore applies: “The Internet treats censorship as damage, and routes around it”. In this case, if BS tries to push it too far, or misuses the idea, the Internet will take care of itself.

(Also have a look over at the VoIP blog for another take)


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