Why do we need a net neutrality law prohibiting broadband network operators from discriminating in favor of the applications, services and content in which they have a financial interest? Because for most of the country, there are only two network operators – a cable operator and/or a telephone company. Net neutrality opponents can talk all they want about the existence of competition, but where is it? As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, wireless services provided by cellphone carriers have very strict capacity limitations that restrict streaming video, Internet telephony and P2P file sharing. GAO recently reported that satellite Internet service is not competitive either, since at 200 kbps, the service cannot really be called “broadband,” and is limited to only those customers who have a southern exposure and who don't live in wooded areas.
On June 29, the FCC will auction 90 Mhz of prime radio spectrum that could be used, among other things, to provide competitive broadband voice, data and video services. That's great news, but here's the problem – telephone and cable companies are likely to bid on the spectrum. If they win, an opportunity for competition will be lost. Media Access Project and several other groups asked the FCC to prohibit those incumbent broadband companies from participating in the auction, and not surprisingly, their requests were rebuffed. At the very least, any winner should be required to abide by net neutrality principles.
Google and T-Mobile will be two of the non-incumbents that are expected to bid on the spectrum. I am keeping my fingers crossed.