You know them from the cap-and-trade climate bill that failed to generate funding for Obama’s proposed health reforms. Now, they’re joining forces again. Rep. Henry Waxman (D.-CA) announced Thursday that he will co-sponsor a net-neutrality bill introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (D.-MA). Misleadingly named the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, Waxman-Markey v 2.0 would hold Internet Service Providers legally responsible for ensuring that every user has access to whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of the actual resources available.
While Internet firms have in recent years embraced a pricing scheme that renders users unaware of the marginal cost of their surfing habits, the unfortunate fact is that bandwidth isn’t free. Somebody has to pay for it. U.S. consumers seem hesitant to embrace a metered pricing system, which could theoretically be the most efficient and “fair” way to bill users (though it seems doubtful that many people would stream video online if they faced an astronomical monthly broadband bill). Somewhere in between those two extremes lies a pricing/usage model that the ISPs are trying to find. They ought to have the ability to experiment to find out what works. And net neutrality advocates should remember that Comcast, the last company that tried implementing an unpopular network management scheme, was scolded by the FCC. As the CNET article above notes, after a public backlash, Comcast quietly stopped the practice. Preventing network administrators from managing traffic on their own networks will lead to either congestion and poor service or prohibitively expensive prices. Under a rule that prohibits innovation in network management schemes, congestion can only be fixed by increasing overall bandwidth, which ultimately leads to higher prices for all consumers.