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'Cable-ization of the Internet'? That Might Not Be the Metaphor You're Looking For

Critics of the Verizon/Google network neutrality compromise have complained that the companies’ proposal to exempt managed services opens the door to the “cable-ization of the Internet.”

That’s supposed to derogatory. But the comparison is off the mark for a couple of reasons.

In fact, it betrays a misunderstanding of not only how the Internet operates but also the fundamental business of cable TV.

First, let’s be clear, “cable-ized” Internet-based network services already exist. Verizon and Google were merely pointing out that such managed services should remain exempt from nondiscrimination guidelines.

A good example here is AT&T’s U-verse TV — it doesn’t go over the public Internet. It’s delivered over a private IP-based network that AT&T manages and controls, in order to guarantee that customers get the HD channels they’re paying for with good quality.

The only way to reliably and predictably deliver applications or content that need a lot of bandwidth (and/or extremely low latency) is over a network that can be controlled end-to-end. The Internet is a “best effort” network, because of the very fact that no single entity controls it.

The other reason the “cable-ization” metaphor doesn’t work is that cable TV is astoundingly popular with consumers. It’s an economic success story. People love pay television. People complain about cable bills, but nobody likes paying their mortgage either.

With new, value-added premium network services, “the Internet is going to become more like other parts of the economy,” the Brookings Institution’s Darrell West told Bloomberg.

Well, no, not “the Internet” per se. But in a free economy consumers should have the option of paying more in order to get enhanced services. Is this a bad thing?