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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Net Neutrality in the Trenches - Part 1

Before positions harden and trenches are dug, it's worth pausing to re-consider the net neutrality debate. The issue is drawing fresh commentary from all kinds of people -- former FCC Chairmen and maverick owners of NBA basketball teams. And it's about time. Certain technology issues demand public discussion. Net neutrality is that kind of issue.

To keep posts a reasonable length, let's do this in two parts. Pro and Con.

First, the Internet as we know it will change. Broadband, streaming video and multimedia content will bring new services and new user experiences. The flat Internet and its dumb pipes will evolve.

Part 1: Arguments against Net Neutrality

1. Money: Telcos are spending $15 billion a year on capital expenditures to build broadband networks enabling companies like Yahoo and Google to deliver video, voice, etc. to everyone who wants it. Why shouldn't these content providers pay for this? And why should websites that use little bandwidth effectively subsidize a company like Google, especially when it enjoys 50% profit margins?

2. Market: The Internet in the U.S. is a private, for-profit industry. The market has and should take care of these issues. People and companies will pay for services they want, and ignore services (and prices) they are unwilling to accept. With broadband, if a super "fast lane" is created, why shouldn't people pay for it, if they want it?

3. Choice: There will always be multiple ways of accessing the Internet. It is not like the cable industry, which is a government protected monopoly. So, consumers and companies will always have leverage to choose how (and at what price) they access the Internet. And competition is only expected to increase in the future.

4. Content Control: Content providers--especially those with rich multimedia content--will want more control over their property (e.g., videos), pricing and the consumer experience. The Internet is not built to distribute mass-market video. Partnering with cable companies to provide premium services (at premium fees) is the only reasonable approach. You can also call this the Mark Cuban Argument.

5. "If It Ain't Broke...": Cable and telephone companies have pledged not to block or impair the packet flow of competing services. This is the current situation, and that should be enough, especially if the FCC guards against anti-competitive actions.

6. Contract Hell: In reality, the Internet is a complex web of contracts among endless service and content providers. It is neither feasible nor wise to create inflexible rules that will force the revision of millions of contracts and risk major unintended effects, especially before any real problems have arisen.

Feel free to add any others you think are worth hearing . . .

Part II will lay out Arguments for Net Neutrality (including new comments from an FCC voice).

Monday, April 10, 2006

Net Neutrality: A Voice to be Heard

The former head of the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S., Reed Hundt, has something to say about "net neutrality." He is clear and to the point, and it's worth hearing his own words:
The purpose of competition is to create a bottleneck and extract rents... It should come as no surprise that the battle within the telephone industry is one where the proprietors assert a property interest in the network, they wish to create a private Internet, they wish to sell access and bundle on top of it content and conduit...

Access builders are not the proprietors of the Web, or the creators of the Web. They are just creators of pathways.

The debate we ought to have is this. From the perspective of the right national goal, do we want low cost, very robust high speed access to this public property or a very expensive limited toll booth?

Access builders say it’s private property, and they can charge high prices to the public park of the Internet. And maybe I should make it less appealing to participate in the public commons and more appealing to particiapte in the private commons I will create. It’s a less robust version of public property and more robust version of private property...

The rules and process [from the 1990s] were meant to empower users, to create a user-centric network where start-ups were subsidized by things like reciprical compensation, and the Internet was placed under the jurisdiction of common carriers...

The open net created by regulation and adjudicatory decisions was a revolution in society and a huge contributor to economic growth and rising wages. We have things now going in the other direction...

How would we like it if China had a non-neutral network? How would we enjoy it if China Telecom were to decide a highly discrimiantory approach was the right paradigm and American firms were not to get equal access, in China or other places under its influence?

[The U.S. is] the only country in the world that doesn’t see broadband as not being everywhere for everyone... We’re not committed to creating a high and rising standard of living with the single most important tool available, the Web. Everyone should have access... The protocols need to be open. We need open protocols. All networks should be able to connect at almost no price.
The full text of his speech (It's not long) can be found here, courtesy of Dana Blankenhorn.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pardon the Interruption...

As readers know, I focus my blogging on leading technology issues of the day. Net neutrality. Open standards. e-Government. Open source. These are the nuts and bolts of this blog.

However, I just read a BBC news article that honestly left me stunned and saddened. And I must apologize from the start that one of the few times Africa is blogged here is to report such news. It's from Zimbabwe, a troubled nation if there ever was one.

I wish I was blogging about this photo... and the new opportunities opened for young Zimbabweans by computers and the Internet.

But instead the story is more about this photo... and how these children, in line for food relief, can expect the fullness of their lives to last less than 40 years. They will probably never use a computer or explore the Internet.

It's easy to forget sometimes that we have the luxury of fighting about net neutrality and open source and other tech matters of the day without worrying about our next meal.