BellSouth drops the gloves on neutrality

My friend and fellow Canuck blogger Mark Evans points to a story from Marketwatch about BellSouth following through on its promise (threat?) to start charging service providers such as Apple or MovieLink extra to ensure that their content gets through to users reliably and quickly. This is an issue that has been coming for awhile.

According to BellSouth chief technology officer Bill Smith, the company is justified in content charging companies because they use the telco’s network without paying for it. “Higher usage for broadband services drives more costs that we have to recover,” he told Marketwatch. Is this a justifiable cost-sharing exercise by a phone company, or what Russell Shaw of ZDNet calls “a shakedown?” Are BellSouth and other telco leaders — such as Ed “Google better pay up for our pipes” Whitacre of AT&T — just trying to make a living, or are they robber barons, as Jeff Jarvis calls them?

Mark Cuban, in his usual contrary fashion, says we need the telcos to do this because we are running out of bandwidth, and besides, it’s going to happen anyway. I find it hard to believe we’ve run out of bandwidth already, given the millions of miles of fiber-optic cable that Level 3 and 360networks and Global Crossing laid during the last tech bubble, but I’ll give Mark that one. What I don’t get is how the telcos keep telling everyone how great high-speed is, and charging them an arm and a leg for it (while trying to get them not to use it) and then start crying poor. Is it jealousy, as Fred Wilson says? Whatever — it’s wrong.

For more, check out a long treatise on the subject by Doc Searls, and another (shorter) one by Mitch Shapiro at IPDemocracy — who has another one here. My friend Rob Hyndman has also commented many times on this theme, including this recent post, and Om has some thoughts as well.


Jeff Pulver has come out with a couple of pointed posts on this topic, including one about neutrality in general, in which he calls on Google to shut down BellSouth in an OK Corral kind of maneuver (which my colleague Mark Evans applauds), and another responding to Mark Cuban’s post, in which he takes the billionaire to task for his views — and Mr. Cuban responds in the comments.

Update 2:

It may not be the aggressive gesture Jeff was hoping for, but Om Malik notes that Google has said in no uncertain terms that it has no intention of paying telcos for enhanced service. “Google is not discussing sharing of the costs of broadband networks with any carrier,” a spokesman told

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