Kevin Drum laments that net neutrality seems to be dead, as he puts it:
So Google and Microsoft and Netflix and other large, well-capitalized incumbents will pay for speedy service. Smaller companies that can't—or that ISPs just aren't interested in dealing with—will get whatever plodding service is left for everyone else. ISPs won't be allowed to deliberately slow down traffic from specific sites, but that's about all that's left of net neutrality. Once you've approved the notion of two-tier service, it hardly matters whether you're speeding up some of the sites or slowing down others.
At some level, this statement is silly. Really, does Netflix and Gmail really need the same connection speed? And by the way, it makes a lot of difference whether investment is to give more speed to certain websites beyond what the consumer gets now vs. slowing down all the non-payers. What honest consumer could ever see these options as similar? Trust a progressive to consider cutting down all the tall trees to be equivalent to raising the short trees.
But here is another thought - Drum is among those who frequently complain about his lack of ISP choices and the slowness of developing speedier service. But if I am an ISP, do I really want to invest billions in extra bandwidth when the benefits of this investment will accrue 100% to companies like Netflix rather than myself? And don't be confused, studies have shown Netflix using a third of all Internet capacity during peak times. (updated data here, showing Google and Netflix together using more than half the capacity). This strikes me as a free rider problem that normally the Left would jump right on.
It's hard to guess how things will play out, but there is a case to be made that Netflix and others paying for the bandwidth they consume will be a huge boon to home ISP access. A second stream of income to ISP's based on bandwidth and speeds may be just what is needed to revitalize that business. Of course, monopoly providers could just drop the money to the bottom line without doing anything to their infrastructure, but I trust that Netflix and Google will have every incentive to pound the hell out of ISP's who don't actually invest. They are not particularly happy about this extra expense, so if they pay it, they are gong to make damn sure they get the speed and bandwidth they promised. We individual customers have in the past had little power to influence ISP's bandwidth and speed investments, but now we have powerful allies.