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Friday, March 17, 2006

AARP Misguided
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I'll concede it must be hard trying to represent the interests of 35 million consumers, but the AARP should stick to issues like pension reform and Medicare and leave technology to others. CNET reports that AARP is among many urging Congress to pass net neutrality legislation. "[T]his has a direct impact on our members and their lifestyles," AARP's spokesman said. He's right, but not for the reason he thinks.

More and more seniors are going online, but they are less likely to embrace the latest technologies such as VoIP and video streaming. For many, e-mail is the primary use, and an occasional web site is visited (health research, for example). This is the case with my in-laws, who haven't fully embraced the broadband world and told me when I visited recently that they saw no reason why they should.

That's fine. But the fact is that they're paying for others' free rides. In the Wall Street Journal recently, BellSouth's William Smith said that 1% of the telco's customers use 40% of its bandwidth. Studies suggest 1/3 to 2/3 of Internet bandwidth is being tied up by services like BitTorrent, which permit file-sharing of video. So seniors like my in-laws are subsidizing twenty-somethings savvy enough (and ethically challenged enough) to operate BitTorrent.

If a tiered Internet were offered, one idea that's been proposed by Smith and others would be a low-priced tier with limited bandwidth sufficient for e-mail and moderate web surfing. Wouldn't this benefit AARP members? It would benefit my in-laws. Those grandmas who want to engage in video scrapbooking can pay for the higher tier.

posted by Patrick Ross @ 4:33 PM | Net Neutrality

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