Net Neutrality Returns with the FCC’s Genachowski and OpenInternet.Gov

“We cannot know what tomorrow holds on the Internet, except that it will be unexpected.”

The new FCC Chairman, Juliius Genachowski, addressed a group of journalists and industry experts at the Brookings Institution on Sep 21st, focusing his discussion on reigniting the topic of network neutrality and “Preserving a Free and Open Internet.”

Quoting early innovators and leaders of the Internet, including Tim Berners-Lee, Genachowski reinforced the idea the Internet is intended as a “Blank Canvas, allowing anyone to contribute and innovate without permission.” An exciting idea, and an exciting confirmation the US Government sees the Internet as infrastructure. While carriers such as Verizon and AT&T should be able to add value to their customers, the basic premise of Internet access is one of an onramp to the rest of the Internet-enabled world.

“The Internet’s creators didn’t want the network architecture — or any single entity — to pick winners and losers.”

Genachowski believes intelligence and innovation within the Internet lives on the edge. FCC LogoThe network should not determine who will or will not be successful on the network, the value of applications and desire for users to support those applications determines success or failure. The value of a Twitter, eBay, or Yahoo to a community determines growth and success of those services – not the underlying pipes provided by networks and carriers.

“…the genius of American innovators is unlimited; and that the fewer obstacles these innovators face in bringing their work to the world, the greater our opportunity as citizens and as a nation.”

We haven’t even scratched the surface of what the Internet-enabled world may offer us as a nation, or members of the global connected community. Our innovators and creative thinkers need to have access to a platform which offers a “blank canvas,” which offers unlimited freedom for users to develop ideas and new applications. The reality is young Internet users have the network, applications, and concept of a network-enabled world much more deeply diffused into their entire life and thought process than those of us who are making decisions today.

Those young people will come up with ideas which our generation cannot even comprehend today. Who would have thought a utility such as FaceBook, started in 2004, would now support more than 300,000,000 users? What is the next generation of Twitter, FaceBook, or smart grid technology? Where do we go with education and interpersonal communications?

Genachoski noted that “nearly four million college students took at least one online course in 2007, and the Internet can potentially connect kids anywhere to the best information and teachers everywhere.” Driving this further down the educational stack allows us to believe that within a short period of time, children in one-room schools in a remote part of Montana will have the same access to education as children at Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, California.

This requires our carriers and network providers to continue building the big, fat, dumb pipes needed to deliver broadband access to every community in our country. This is infrastructure, no different from a roads, water, or electricity. Do we need, as a nation, to pay a universal services fee or tax to support development of national (and global) infrastructure?

Absolutely

Do we need to give control of the content and services running over the infrastructure to individual commercial telecom carriers and service providers?

Absolutely not

The Six FCC Internet Principles

Chairman Genachowski intends to ensure that doesn’t happen. He acknowledges that “we’ve already seen some clear examples of deviations from the Internet’s historic openness.” And continues “the rise of serious challenges to the free and open Internet puts us at a crossroads. We could see the Internet’s doors shut to entrepreneurs, the spirit of innovation stifled, a full and free flow of information compromised. Or we could take steps to preserve Internet openness, helping ensure a future of opportunity, innovation, and a vibrant marketplace of ideas.”

To ensure the Internet in the United States continues to support the free, open nature of the network, Genachowski proposed two additional principles be added to the existing four principles of network neutrality, originally established by the FCC in 2005.

  • The fifth principle is one of non-discrimination — stating that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications
  • The sixth principle is a transparency principle — stating that providers of broadband Internet access must be transparent about their network management practices

Both principles are good, intending to ensure telecommunication carriers and Internet Service Providers/ISPs do not make decisions on what content is available on their networks, nor will the carriers and ISPs prioritize applications or services based on network management decisions or controls. The individual networks should never determine who will be the winner or loser, the only determination should be on whether or not users actually want to support that service or content.

The six principles of network neutrality will now include:

  • Consumers are entitled to access whatever lawful internet content they want
  • Consumers are entitled to run whatever applications and services they want, subject to the needs of law enforcement
  • Consumers can connect to networks whatever legal devices they want, so long as they do not harm them
  • Consumers are entitled to competition between networks, applications, services and content providers
  • Service providers are not allowed to discriminate between applications, services and content outside of reasonable network management
  • Service providers must be transparent about the network management practices they use

What do Other Countries Think about Network Neutrality?

Canadians are also confronting the idea of network neutrality, with the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) planning to review their own existing policies. The CRTC is looking at whether additional network neutrality policies are required and what they should be. The CRTC is holding a series of hearing on the topic and is planning to present their decisions and finding later this year.

Many Canadian ISPs and carriers ISPs do not believe net neutrality policies are needed. Those providers believe the Canadian Telecommunications Act already is strong enough to prevent abuses as feared possible in the US by the FCC. Others note that this may not be the case, citing issues such as the CRTC deciding in favor of the networks on topics such as traffic shaping and management of peer-to-peer traffic (such as Bit Torrent). (CBC Canada)

Large Content Providers Change their Stripes

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo – all were very vocal in their support of network neutrality during the initial debates in 2005. Who can forget Vint Cerf’s passionate speech discussing the free and open nature of the Internet?

That is starting to change. According to the Wall Street Journal, all of the largest American content providers have started backing down from their aggressive support of network neutrality, and have begun making agreements with some of the largest networks to put their content directly into the network.

The only big news here is that in the past large American networks, known as Tier-1 network providers, have refused to “peer” with other content providers and smaller networks, preferring to charge an access fee for the bandwidth needed to either deliver the content within the carrier’s network, or to use the carrier as a “transit” network to reach parts of the country and world not easily accessible from their primary data centers.

In the past, public and private Internet exchange points provided by companies such as Equinix (IBX) and Switch and Data (PAIX) have allowed content providers to pass their traffic to international and smaller regional or local networks without having to pay the Tier 1 network “toll.” Having a data center presence near or at carrier hotels such as the Westin Building in Seattle or 60 Hudson in New York allowed content providers to have direct connections to their peers.

The only difference here is that content providers have now started making agreements with the Tier 1 networks, bringing their content directly to the network without the need for private interconnections that may not offer enough bandwidth or capacity to provide sufficient service or end user experience. This is not a bad thing, as long as extra or unreasonable fees are not passed on to the end user – but again the end users will ultimately determine the value of that content, and subsequently the success or failure of that service.

The Future or “Our” Internet

Chairman Genachowski understands the US Government’s responsibility in providing a vision for the future of Internet in our country, and in the world.

“We have an obligation to ensure that the Internet is an enduring engine for U.S. economic growth, and a foundation for democracy in the 21st century. We have an obligation to ensure that the Internet remains a vast landscape of innovation and opportunity.”

If words reflect reality, we have a good opportunity to continue leading the world in Internet innovation and development. Chairman Genachowski gets it. He comes from the commercial world, has grown up with the Internet, and appears to truly have the best interests of the American people and global Internet-connected community in his plan. He is opening up discussion, to all Americans on both sides of the debate, at the new website OpenInternet.Gov.

You can read, and listen to the entire Brookings Institution conference, including a great panel discussion and Q&A session at the OpenInternet.Gov website.

This is your future, and the future of many generations to come. Weigh in, understand the issue, and let your voice be heard, regardless of where you stand on the debate.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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