Monday, February 25, 2008

Pipe Management 

Pipe management is an interesting concept in Free Speech -- that is, the size and speed of internet data delivery. We have written in the past about Comcast's PR embarrassment for failing to tell users that it was slowing or preventing transport of gigabyte-sized files. Now, it seems that ISPs might not be allowed to dictate what is transported over their networks. What other medium would have that restriction? Certainly not printed media that are allowed by reasons for space to dictate what goes in their columns. Nor electronic media which have only so much bandwidth for sound and visuals.

The idea that the internet provides unlimited bandwidth and speed to users is enticing but for one difficulty. Who pays for it? Should access be left on a flat-fee basis or should heavy users pay more? The obvious answer is not the response internet users want. Internet users demand a low flat fee no matter how much they stuff through the system. It is as if Free Speech has no economic limits. But, unfortunately, it does. A carrier has a right to earn a return on investment for the pipelines that it builds to users. When someone wants to put more through the pipeline than it is built for, the carrier should have the choice of saying no or of demanding payment for transport.

The internet has extended Free Speech to vast dimensions but not infinity.


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