After successfully bulldozing Congressional efforts to protect "net neutrality," Verizon is rushing to assure American consumers that it won't block content transmitted over the Internet.
Verizon also says it won't give favorable treatment to its own content. AT&T hasn't not noticeably rushed to give any such assurances.
By a vote of 23-8, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee defeated an amendment presented by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) that would have codified the principle of "net neutrality" -- that all Internet content should be available to all users, and providers shouldn't favor one class of user over others.
Supporters of net neutrality fear that telecoms such as Verizon and AT&T, formerly SBC, would institute a "tiered Internet," setting aside the fastest connections and best service to the highest-paying clients.
Won't happen, claims the telecoms' lobbying arm. Walter McDowell, president of the United States Telecom Association (USTA), which lobbies on behalf of the fast-dwindling number of major telecoms, famously stated that "Our commitment to our customers, our commitment to you is this: We will not block, impair, or degrade content, applications, or service."
But the chairman of AT&T has never made any secret of his feelings on the matter. Ed Whiteacre has repeatedly stated that his company deserved a return on investment for letting content providers use his "pipes."
"[T]here's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?" asked Whiteacre, apparently forgetting the millions of dollars AT&T collects for maintaining its portion of the Internet backbone and the additional millions it charges its DSL, T-1 and dial-up customers.
Nor does Verizon's management of its Wireless Broadband service instill confidence. The service sets Verizon subscribers back $60 a month in order to check their e-mail and surf the Web at what might be called semi-high speed, using what's called the EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) network.
Subscribers are told in Verizon's ads and sales literature that usage is "unlimited." However, Verizon's chief technology officer Dick Lynch told PC World magazine recently that heavy users of the service might face a tiered pricing structure if they continue to eat up bandwith.
Lynch was miffed to learn that enterprising subscribers have been using the network to stream movies, television shows, and act as modems for their laptops when no other broadband service is available.
"I don't think you ought to assume that for the long term you're going to be able to pay the same amount as the ... more casual user and be fair to all our customers," Lynch said. "So I think you'll find over time that the amount of usage that you demand from the network each month will in fact have to ... drive the pricing structure."
Advertising aside, Verizon's customer agreement for Wireless Broadband Access is somewhat restrictive. Ars Technica reporter Eric Bangeman detailed that the agreement restricts "uploading, downloading or streaming of movies, music or games, ... server devices or with host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, Voice over IP (VoIP), automated machine-to-machine connections, or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing."
Paying $60 a month just to check your e-mail faster seems a touch on the extreme side, but Verizon seems bound and determined to wring as much money out of the service as they can.
"At some point, in order to provide you the same grade of service for that application, we're going to have to differentiate the grades of service," Lynch said.
Typical Tech Troubles
But Verizon customers, tech pundits, and observers note that the company can't even commit to providing decent service and customer support on a regular basis.
Take the case of Greg V., an insurance analyst in Washington, D.C. Greg, a Verizon Wireless subscriber, completely lost service at a time when he needs to be in contact with his co-workers.
"I had absolutely no service at all [last Tuesday], even when I was on my roof deck," he said. "And in the past week about 50% of the times I have tried to use the high speed Web surfing and data transfer, [it] was not available at all."
In a test of Verizon's Wireless Broadband last year, ConsumerAffairs.com's James R. Hood called it "the most shiftless, unreliable service we have ever paid good money for. At about $90 a month, it's far from cheap but we found it to work so poorly it would be overpriced at any price."
Service has improved since then, Hood said, but he said an upcoming review will find the service still fails to deliver the reliability most serious business users require.