Net neutrality — the debate, technological reasoning about what “net neutrality” really needs to be, and alternatives to the extremist positions of both sides on the net neutrality debate
While ego-surfing, I found something I let slip by last April. Responding to my views on network neutrality, Richi Jennings pooh-poohed my claim that low latency is important. Specifically, he said:
Here’s the thing… Those of us that live the other side of the Atlantic live with 250ms latency every day, when we connect to services hosted in North America. I dare say the same is true for those on the other side of the Pacific. There’s not much getting around the speed of light.
Now, I’ll confess to not being the greatest of networking mavens, my networking startup and my various relationships with Network World notwithstanding. Truth be told, I dropped out of a physics major when the only uncompleted course was electronics lab. But before I dropped out, I did get the speed of light drilled into me. It’s 186,000 miles/second, aka 3 x 10^10 cm/sec. (“Not just a good idea; it’s the law!”). 186,000 miles, I’m quite convinced, is a lot more than 4 times the difference across the Atlantic Ocean. And the same remains true even when you knock off 50% or so because that light is traveling through glass rather than in a vacuum.
Oops! It turns out Network World ran my column on network neutrality and Tariff Rebate Passthrough on April 23, not April 30 as I previously believed. So I should have gotten my list of outside links together sooner. Sorry. Confusing matters further, my post on Jeffersonet vs. Edisonet got Slashdotted, without me having provided a link to the column itself. Well, here goes.
- Ed Whitacre, CEO of SBC/AT&T, kicked things off in late 2005, arguing that he should be allowed to discriminate between, say, Google and Yahoo based on how much they paid him. He later backed down a bit, but many people are unconvinced as to his sincerity.
- Verizon said similar things around the same time.
- Om Malik made an early attempt to cover all sides of the issue, albeit with a pro-neutrality orientation.
- Jeremy Penston had an article last week arguing that bandwidth is NOT “effectively free,” at least for video.
- Scott Cleland says my thinking is “seriously flawed” because I think there’s any need for neutrality regulation. He thinks no logical case has been made for neutrality whatsoever. Perhaps we need need to spell it out for him in smaller words. Anyhow, his one-pager that is admittedly sponsored by the telecom vendors does a good job of smashing some net neutrality strawmen nobody was talking about anyway.
- Errata Security argues that network neutrality is unworkable on the backbone, and links to my article, which was only about network neutrality on the last mile.
- Richi Jennings argues that we don’t need tiering, because the speed of light has dropped from 300 million meters/second to a mere 80 million or so. Or maybe less. Or something like that … seriously, it seems that he doubts the value of super-high QOS, because latency is an inescapable fact of life.
My April 30 Network World column is scheduled to be on network neutrality, with this post linked out as a guide to further research.
Some of my own writings on the subject include:
- This post today separating the Internet into “Jeffersonet” and “Edisonet”, where Jeffersonet needs extreme net neutrality but Edisonet can and must endure tiered pricing. I’d have loved to get that point into the column, but there wasn’t room.
- This post today calling for extreme net neutrality specifically in the area of search.
- Two posts last June (with links to additional prior ones) spelling out the Tariff Rebate Passthrough idea. These cover mainly the same material as the column, but are part of group incorporating to some discussion of the idea last spring among a variety of commentators.
I’ll supply some outside links on the subject later on.
In a way, proponents and opponents of network neutrality are both correct! That is, they are each correct about different aspects of the Internet.
Net neutrality is both necessary and workable for what I call Jeffersonet, which comprises the “classical”, bandwidth-light parts of the Internet. Thus, it includes e-mail, instant messaging, much e-commerce, and just about every website created in the first 13 or so years of the Web. Jeffersonet is the greatest tool in human history to communicate research, teaching, news, and political ideas, or to let tiny businesses compete worldwide. Any censorship of Jeffersonet – even if just of the self-interested large-enterprise commercial kind – would be a terrible loss. Net neutrality is workable for Jeffersonet because – well, because it’s already working just fine. Jeffersonet doesn’t need anything beyond current levels of bandwidth and reliability. So there’s no reason to mess with what’s working, other than simple profit-hungry greed.
Martin Geddes of Telepocalypse is kind enough to call Tariff Rebate Passthrough “the first new idea I’ve seen in a long time on the stale network neutrality debate.” He goes on to express concern about the practicality of the idea, but hopefully I addressed that somewhat in subsequent posts. While there certainly are major systems to build, which I acknowledge, I don’t see why it’s worse than what would be needed if the telcos’ preferred bill successfully makes it through Congress.
Good things can come from the oddest sources, like mushrooms from a guano cave. And thus an amusing and worthwhile article has appeared under Andrew Orlowski‘s byline. It’s over-the-top, of course, but hey — it IS an Orlowski piece, after all.
His basic thesis is that political bloggers feel so driven to just write that they eventually lose touch with logic, and that this plays in to the general paranoid theme in political discourse. (For some reason, he identifies paranoia uniquely with Americans, but let’s overlook that piece of silliness.) In particular, he thinks the pro-net-neutrality arguments are extremist, even as he correctly points out that the bill being rammed through Congress in their despite is horrifically anti-competitive.
- Pricing of internet services to consumers will be based wholly on technical characteristics such as volume and quality of service, and not on the identity of the information provider, the content of the information, or the equipment (hardware or software) used by the consumer to consume it. (Actually, the telecom providers may yelp at the “hardware” clause.)
- Pricing of “last-mile” delivery to information providers will be based on those same factors only, and be in the form of standard per-byte tariffs only. Pricing will not discriminate in any way among information providers, nor among types of application.
- Telecom service vendors can’t charge two parties for delivering the same byte.
I think that’s it. Maybe I’m missing something – I’m surely no regulatory lawyer – but those three provisions seem to incorporate the essence, and the benefits, of Tariff Rebate Passthrough.
I’ve thought more about the one weakness so far in the Tariff Rebate Passthrough plan – pricing flexibility. Contrary to what I implied a few hours ago, I now believe that Tariff Rebate Passthrough (TRP) is fully compatible with the kinds of service pricing flexibility providers and consumers are used to or would want. To see that, let’s consider the basic kinds of telecom service pricing:
Dave Siegel posted a challenge to my Tariff Rebate Passthrough net neutrality proposal, claiming that technical implementation would be unduly burdensome, and also touching on the fact that consumers generally prefer flat-rate to metered pricing. I think the best response would be to spell out, in a little more detail, how it would work. Along the way, I think I can answer Dave’s (and anybody else’s) concerns. Read more
Maybe I should explain why I feel motivated and qualified to hold forth at such length about public policy issues such as net neutrality, free-world privacy, authoritarian censorship, economic development, and so on.
If you’re reading here, you’re probably familiar with my software industry credentials — top-ranked stock analyst, top-tier product analyst, sometime entrepreneur, etc. If not, there’s always my official bio. But I also have some non-trivial public policy and economics chops. I spent two years at the Kennedy School of Government after getting my Ph.D. Then, turning down an assistant professorship at the Kellogg School of Management as well as research jobs at RAND and IDA, I went to Wall Street — which is, if one chooses to make it such, one heck of a further education in economics. And then in the mid/late 90s, Linda and I actually got active in the internet services market, analyzing, consulting, etc. Indeed, we even (re)wrote a few speeches for Steve Case of AOL, including some Congressional testimony.
Bottom line: Yes, I actually have some idea what I’m talking about.
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