Originally Posted by veedon
What I mean is this: Will a bunch of NFL and college football games that I don't give a hoot about soon be clogging things up? Will Netflix also be clogging things up? And if they are clogging things up, shouldn't the people who use Netflix or are obsessed with football have to pony up the dough rather than seeking a de facto governmental subsidy that shifts the costs to other internet users?
The Internet as a whole isn't something you can "clog up". If your local ISP doesn't have enough bandwidth to service all of its customers, then it is up to the ISP to build out its network until it has enough capacity to serve everyone who is paying for its service. If it fails to do so, people will switch ISPs.
An ISP saying that Netflix subscribers should pay a premium for bandwidth would be like UPS saying that it refuses to buy enough delivery trucks to deliver all of its packages, so instead it's going to devote 90% of its existing trucks to high-paying customers who want their packages delivered on time, while the remaining 10% of their trucks will service everybody else who can't afford for their packages to take less than six months to reach their destinations.
They could indeed do that, but it wouldn't be a very wise business decision, as if one delivery company doesn't provide good service, people will start sending their packages via a competing service. If demand is high, it's in the company's best interest to provide enough supply to meet that demand, or else it will lose business to competitors.
The problem is that when it comes to ISPs, there isn't much competition in the US, so switching is harder than it sounds, because there aren't many alternatives, good or otherwise. Most markets have either DSL from the local phone company or cable from the local cable company, and that's about it. Compounding the problem is that the US is so spread out that ISPs see little reason to improve their networks, because it isn't economical to lay high-speed cables to service towns of ten people in the middle of nowhere (which describes the population density situation across the majority of the country's land mass). If you look at the Internet access situations in Europe, Japan, and other areas with high population densities, their access runs circles around anything available in the US, because it's worthwhile to build a fast network when you have millions of customers to reach in a single spot.
Since the limited competition that's already available hasn't solved the supply problem, and the barrier to market entry is so high (since building a competing network from scratch is prohibitively expensive), the proposed way to address this situation is to reclassify broadband providers as public utilities, so that they can't set prices to whatever they want. This line of thinking says that Internet access has become so fundamental to participation in modern society that it can't be solely left up to corporations to decide who gets Internet access and for what price, which is a decision that was made long ago for other services, such as telephone service, electrical service, and rail service.
ISPs of course don't want to be regulated in this way, because it will inhibit their ability to charge for service by the byte. They argue that regulation will stifle competition and investment in the Internet. The ISPs lobbying against regulation don't seem to have any answer to the question of where competition is going to come from when the ISP options are already so limited, but that's not exactly a question they feel obliged to answer.
At some point it's possible for what was once a novel luxury technology to become a necessity, and when that happens, the government has a historical precedent to regulate that technology to ensure that citizens receive equal access to it. It's up to the people to decide when a particular technology reaches the tipping point of moving from luxury to necessity and to ensure that the government knows when this threshold has been reached, because companies certainly won't give up their cash cows without a fight. The question we're asking now is whether the Internet has reached that tipping point.