Tuesday, June 27, 2006

fyi Senate Committee Chairman Says 'No' to Net Neutrality


Found content: http://www.eweek.com/print_article2/0,1217,a=181757,00.asp

My take:

This headline is misleading. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, didn’t say “no” to “net neutrality.” Instead, if you read the article, it’s clear that he said “no” to including any mention of “net neutrality” in a pending bill until somebody defines “net neutrality” to his satisfaction.

"Until somebody tells me what net neutrality means, until they can give me a definition, I don't want it in there," Stevens said to eWEEK on June 22. For the record, Stevens also said "The Internet should be free." Whatever that means.

For what it’s worth, I’ll offer a definition of “net neutrality.” I’ve been keeping myself from responding to this issue until it gets to the point where I care enough. Right now, I’m totally sick of the TV ads for and against “net neutrality” (living in the Washington DC area, I’m one of those privileged few Americans who are exposed to this nonsense, which is actually directed at the 535 Americans, such as Stevens, who live part-year in this area and have offices and staffs up on Capitol Hill).

Essentially, “net neutrality” refers to the need for broadband carriers to be regulated as common carriers. In other words, “net neutrality” is a regulatory regime ensuring that broadband carriers (telcos, cable, wireless, etc.) provide open, nondiscriminatory access, routing, interconnection, and termination services to all end users and application/content providers, including those app/content providers who’ve connected to the ‘Net via other carriers. What “net neutrality” is designed to prevent is a situation where each broadband carrier may provide preferential access, routing, interconnection, and/or termination services (and preferential pricing of those underlying network services) to “walled gardens” of their own, affiliated, and partner app/content providers.

If “net neutrality” isn’t mandated by law and enforced by US regulatory agencies, then broadband providers have every incentive to favor their walled gardens and to penalize providers of unaffiliated app/content providers (hence, penalize their end users) through higher prices, inferior QoS, and so forth. Is anybody, on either side of the dispute, truly denying that that will happen if some form of “net neutrality” is not guaranteed by law? You’ll subscribe to a broadband ISP (be it a telco, cable company, etc.) and will find that your access to unaffiliated sites is rendered less convenient, performant, and pleasant through numerous inconspicuous techno-hobbles that make it seem (to the unwitting end users) as if the unaffiliated ones are just naturally inferior and overpriced.

In a Republican-dominated government, there seems to be an ideological block against expanding the regulatory powers of the FCC. But there seems to be no alternative that will guarantee nondiscriminatory broadband provisioning to all endpoints. The carriers covet the success of high-powered app/content endpoints (e.g, Google et al) in the rapid rampup to broadband media, and they clearly want to siphon off a piece of revenue stream that flows to those properties.

Of course, some broadband ISPs are doing quite well by the Googles of the world, who pay billions of dollars for fast, fat Internet connections. One of the unspoken subtexts in the “net neutrality” debate is that the “have-not” ISPs—in other words, those that didn’t land these plum accounts—simply want to spread the wealth their way. Much the same way that say, owners of baseball teams in subpar regional markets have managed to grab an inordinate share of national TV advertising revenues to compensate for their shortfall in local ticket sales. Franchise subsidies through collective action by all franchisees against a baseball-reliant cash cow (i.e., advertisers and the broadcast TV networks that they sustain).

Is that the right analogy? Yeah….the Googles are sustained by advertising revenues. The Googles rely on bandwidth to push that advertising out to their target customers. The ISPs control that bandwidth: the playing fields where advertisers and their end users connect.

What is a stadium if not the original walled garden? A field of green available only to paying customers.