Just How Neutral is the Net? Not Very. - InformationWeek

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12/28/2007
10:12 AM
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Just How Neutral is the Net? Not Very.

How large ISPs are squeezing the little guy harder than ever by hijacking searches and reporting questionable traffic metrics, which in turn drives up online advertising rates

Perhaps, Verizon felt comfortable announcing its policy because the same trick has been tried by other ISPs, including Charter, Cox, and EarthLink. In fact, top-level domain operator VeriSign attempted to roll out a comprehensive redirecting campaign in 2003, but the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), stepped in and told the company to knock it off.

VeriSign eventually complied with that request, but it is unclear what ICANN would have done if the vendor refused. The organization was created to help with the transition from US government oversight of the Internet to it becoming a self-policing entity. While the organization still helps set policy, its policing power is unclear.

Rather than a potential sanction from ICANN, or another group like it, common sense should dictate that redirecting is bad policy. Yes, a company generates a few more hits but at what price? Let's start with the assumption that the vast majority of folks redirected to a site will stare at the page for a second or two and either retype their Web addresses or go to another search engine.

Web monitoring tools are becoming more sophisticated so it is becoming clearer how much time individuals spend on each site. What advertisers want is for a person to say a few minutes rather than a few seconds. Recently, there has been growing evidence of how common the two second visit is, and advertisers are pushing back on ISPs to promote more substantive exchanges.

Another downside is the practice lessens service providers' credibility. When you see companies touting numbers like millions of subscribers each day or billons of visitors each month, do you really believe them? Many outsiders already think that policies, such as redirecting and chopping content up into multiple pages, artificially prop up vendors' numbers. Collapse seems inevitable for any business built on a shaky foundation.

The more significant problem is these policies frustrate users. They want information quickly and easily. Instead, they are often treated like mice trying to weave their way through mazes. This frustration often leads them to dumping one service and searching for a more efficient alternative. Rather than spending their time building artificial props, vendors, like Verizon, should be working to make users' Web experience simpler and more fulfilling. If they do that, they won't have to worry about a low number of hits on their sites.

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who has been writing about networking issues for two decades. His work has appeared in '"Business 2.0", "Entrepreneur", Investors Business Daily", "Newsweek" and "Information Week". He is based in Sudbury, Mass.

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