Fred Wilson, whom I admire, comments on a recent dust-up where a content provider blocked their programming from customers of a specific ISP. This is the kind of stuff that should not happen on the web. […]I see more signs every day that we need some basic rules governing Internet access. Maybe we shouldn’t call it Net Neutrality. Maybe we should call it a bill of rights for consumers on the Internet.
This turns the Net Neutrality argument on its head. The essence of NN is that network providers should transfer all bits from all content providers with equal treatment.
But the network provider in this case did nothing, and so the episode has nothing to do with network neutrality. The content publisher chose not to deliver their programming to a certain audience — which is what publishers of every stripe do every day.
Fred seems to be arguing for Content Neutrality, that publishers must make all their content available to everyone. This is either a radical redefinition of Net Neutrality, or a demonstration of how slippery and ad hoc the definition is.
Not every newsstand carries every magazine and newspaper. Cable systems don’t carry every channel on every plan. Some publishers choose markets by geography or by income level.
These would be violations of Content Neutrality. They are also successful models which provide customers with different products for different desires and price points. (It also looks a lot like free speech, btw.)
Imagine if you, the web site operator, had to provide proof that you are delivering all your bits without discrimination. Blocked any IP’s lately? Shut down any undesirable accounts?
I understand that this episode is not desirable, but the fix is in incentives, not rule-making. The content provider in this case did itself no favors, and quickly reversed its policy. Let them lose customers to their competitors.
Simply put, the content providers own the content, and its disposition is their choice. Ditto the network provider. Attempts at managing distribution with top-down rules have generally been a tragedy in other markets.
It seems to me that Net Neutrality, combined with Content Neutrality, should have a new definition. Let’s call it the Managed Web. Sound good?