Net Neutrality Spawns Creative Similes

Network neutrality is being likened to buggy whips, looms and plumbing, in what may be a cleverly disguised campaign to demonstrate that no one knows what "network neutrality" is.

For the time being, it's the monkey wrench in the gears of telecom reform. Network neutrality legislation would prevent broadband service providers, i.e., cable and phone companies, from creating toll lanes on the Internet Superhighway. The BSPs would like to charge high-traffic sites like Google or Amazon bigger bucks than say,, because the search engine and e-tailer use a bigger chunk of bandwidth.

Proponents of network neutrality -- mostly Democrats and big dot.coms -- say the toll lane model would be the kiss of death to the next great wave of Internet coolness, such as the low-budget egalitarian YouTube. Opponents -- mostly Republicans and Verizon -- say it would thwart investment in broadband infrastructures. (During the Senate Commerce Committee debate on network neutrality, several Republicans asserted that the concept had no clear definition.)

Tom Tauke would belong in camp No. 2. "Old world regulation would severely hamper the deployment of the new networks that are the essential foundation for the broadband world," said Tauke, executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications for Verizon. Tauke delivered his "old world" remarks in an address at a Media Institute Luncheon in Washington.

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that warns of its own tenuous relationship with veracity, the "Old World consists of those parts of Earth known to Europeans before the voyages of Christopher Columbus."

Tauke's point, however, is that an Internet consisting of static pages is giving way to high-capacity systems for video delivery. Internet-distributed video would compete with video delivered by other means, including Verizon's own FiOS. Verizon is in the midst of a $20 billion fiber build-out, primarily intended for FiOS, but also plans to offer type of high-speed broadband service ideal for video downloads.

Verizon generates about $70 billion a year in revenue. Still, the massive fiber investment has put pressure on Verizon's share prices, while it also loses phone lines -- 3.5 million last year, according to a February piece in the Washington Post.

One of Verizon's key legislative battles this year has been over video franchising. The telco is pushing for a national franchising law to replace the current model requiring separate deals with something like 40,000 local governments. The telecom reform bill passed by the House was comprised of national video franchising and a couple of additional sentences. The version passed last month by the Senate Commerce Committee had everything but the kitchen sink and strong network neutrality language, which instigated a hold on the bill by Democrats. Consequently, it will have to be debated on the Senate floor, with very little time left to do so.

"Moving any legislation through Congress is a challenge," allowed Tauke, himself a former Congressman. "It's always better to bet against passage than for, and this is not a 'must-do' issue."

At the same time, he noted that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was pretty darned determined to bring telecom reform to a vote. Several published reports indicate that Hill staffers anticipate one in September.

Meanwhile, Stevens has become something of an Internet celebrity in his own right for comments he made about network neutrality during markup. In defending his position against it, the veteran senator likened the Internet to a "series of tubes" that can get clogged up with too much information. He subsequently blamed an e-mail he didn't receive for several hours after it was sent with getting slowed down by movie deliveries and gamers on the Web.

His meanderings seemed relatively clear at the June markup, but were somewhat unflattering taken out of context, which is how they've wound up on in a clip from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Several other sites took potshots at the senator, who showed no signs of giving a hoot as of this writing.