All bytes created equal: net neutrality and SMS

A post on TechCrunch today about how incredibly much AT&T charges, per byte, for SMS messages reminded me to throw up my quick thoughts on my dream for a future where bytes aren’t discriminated against based on information about their content. Or at least not quite like they are today.

While I have to tip my hat to the cellular providers for managing to pull off the biggest market segmentation coup since airlines discovered that businessmen don’t stay over Saturday night, I have to admit that I find it frustrating that it’s far more expensive for me to update my twitter status sending an SMS than using my mobile web browser, despite that thousands fewer bytes get transmitted for the SMS with lower expectations on speediness.

The net neutrality purists might argue that the way to fix this bizarre state of affairs would be to require that no data should be discriminated against under any circumstances. That definitely sounds like a worthy goal, but I don’t think that’s quite the right approach.

There are some applications, such as real-time video or voice, where I might want certain data to be bumped to the front of some line. If I want to make use of an application that has such requirements, seems to me to be totally fair for the data provider to charge me for that–perhaps I have to pay my broadband or cellular provider more for the monthly privilege of requesting that a certain amount of data be delivered with a low-latency guarantee or with a minimum throughput commitment.

Seems to me like that would let the market sort itself out. It gives the providers an incentive to give me options around network quality-of-service, it gives me an incentive not to ask to use such new features except in situations where such premium usage makes my life better, and it gives Internet application developers the tools that they need to offer their end users innovative new experiences so long as their users show up with the required premium features.

I’m probably completely neglecting the case where Google might offer to pay the low-latency premium for users who commit to using Google exclusively, or something like that. But I think I’m more interested in seeing ways to improve voice and video as long as my mundane traffic doesn’t perceptibly degrade from where we are today.

Update: removing the break in the middle of the post. Not sure how it got there, but it’s a little annoying.

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