The old grade school puzzler goes like this: Which is heavier: A pound of bricks or a pound of feathers?
If you’re eight years old and you’re not paying attention, you say “bricks.”
JP Rangaswami, who writes the IT blog Confused of Calcutta, used a similar analogy in a discussion I had with him last week about net neutrality. (Note that JP is not especially confused. And while he is “of” Calcutta he is usually “in” London, except last week when he was in San Francisco.)
“If you want to send a ton of gold by FedEx, they will charge you the same as if you wanted to send a ton of bricks,” JP explained. “But what the telcos want to do is charge you extra for the gold, even though it has the same weight.”
In other words, they want to be able to charge Google extra to ship its video content to you–while slowing down video from, say, YouTube, even if it takes the exact same amount of bandwidth as Google’s.
The telco counterargument is that, thanks to the widespread availability of gold, we are all suddenly receiving one-ton packages–whereas before all they had to deliver was lightweight envelopes and small packages. So why shouldn’t they charge the senders extra?
In other words, we all used to just download lightweight HTML and a few graphics. But now, thanks to Internet TV, we’re filling up the pipes with gigantic .MOV files of remixed Shakira videos.
Our response should be: If you’re not charging companies enough for 45Mbps of bandwidth because their customers have the audacity to use all of that capacity, by all means, raise your rates. But don’t try to sell us some cockamamie scheme to charge different rates for different types of content, or to carry traffic from different source preferentially based on who’s paying extra for transit. Particularly if those schemes will make it difficult for us to view, read, or listen to certain kinds of stuff.
Which takes more bandwidth: A gigabyte of news, or a gigabyte of video?