and this post I found shows that at least one rural service provider blocked access to Vonage.
At the NVCA Annual meeting this week, Net Neutrality was described as one of the largest regulatory threats to the growth of early stage companies along with a number of other serious issues including SEC regulations requiring expensing of stock options and Sarbannes-Oxley.
The issue arose when several of the larger carriers suggested that they were going to offer premium services that were targeted at rich media such as streaming video. The idea of premium grade internet service isn't new. When I ran the software development of the IOS back in my Cisco days, we conceived of tiered services on the 'net - a base "best efforts" service and protected Quality of Service (QoS) that protected certain kinds of traffic so that they always had preferred bandwidth.
As content providers start to offer streaming HD movies over the Internet something will have to change! - you don't want to be hauling high bandwidth traffic to millions of different end-points over the same core network (much too expensive!). More content will have to be moved to the edge of the network and the last mile access network will have to accommodate serious bandwidth improvements. Looking at the financial performance of Akamai (NASDAQ: AKAM) over the last year, content IS moving to the edge and the build outs by Verizon et al are all edge focused.
I've decided to add my own howl to the issue; at a minimum, service providers should be required to support a basic level of Internet access that provides equal access to all destinations and content. Much as you can dial any number you want on your telephone, you should be free to select any service or content via the Internet.
If the service providers want to offer a premium grade service that gives high bandwidth, guaranteed QoS for a specific service, more power to them. If there is sufficient demand and the benefits warrant the price paid, the market will give them a payback.
In the meantime, I'm still predicting that the new providers of content (like Google, Yahoo etc.) will get more and more into the access network business - either on their own or with partners, so that they can protect the user experience.