Shrouding the Net Neutrality Debate in a Cloud of Politics

The FCC finally moved the network neutrality debate forward Thursday, voting to begin developing open Internet regulations. The topic has become quite interesting over the past week, as strong-willed proponents and opponents of Internet Network Neutralitynet neutrality turn up campaigns to influence law makers prior to voting on any net neutrality principles that may become law.

The debate is actually quite simple – should the government regulate, or not regulate the Internet? That discussion revolves around the six principles of network neutrality proposed by the FCC:

Under the draft proposed rules, subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service:

  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user’s choice over the Internet;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user’s choice;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from connecting to and using on its network the user’s choice of lawful devices that do not harm the network;
  • would not be allowed to deprive any of its users of the user’s entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers, and content providers;
  • would be required to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
  • would be required to disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking.

The Pro Argument of Network Neutrality

Oddly, former adversaries Google and Verizon issued a joint statement regarding their position on net neutrality. Both companies have significantly changed their positions since the debate originally hit the headlines in 2005, with a highlight of the joint statement:

“For starters we both think it’s essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform — where people can access any content (so long as it’s legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice.
Transformative is an over-used word, especially in the tech sector. But the Internet has genuinely changed the world. Consumers of all stripes can decide which services they want to use and the companies they trust to provide them…

…This kind of “innovation without permission” has changed the way we do business forever, fueling unprecedented collaboration, creativity and opportunity. And because America has been at the forefront of most of these changes, we have disproportionately benefited in terms of economic growth and job creation.”

This oddly puts Verizon in opposition to the other main anti-net neutrality supporters such as AT&T, Cox Communications, and Comcast.

Certainly companies like Google have come a very long way from 2005 when the debate was clearly one of who pays whom, for what kind of service, and who has the right to determine the quality of services over basic Internet infrastructure. In the early days content providers wanted a level of government regulation to ensure the Internet transmission and network providers did not have control over the end user experience, and objected to statements by AT&T’s then CEO Ed Whitacre who stated in an interview with Business Week:

“How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This set off both a furor among Internet users, as well as a new movement to ensure the “telcos” did not ever again have an opportunity to restrict or limit free access to their networks. Arguments ranged from identifying the US taxpayer and AT&T customers paying for basic infrastructure our of Universal Services Fund/USF (meaning the US taxpayer is actually the owner of much of AT&T’s USF-funded infrastructure), to AT&T subscribers being forced to use AT&T preferred content providers based on their control of the network.

There are many organizations representing both users and Internet industry companies supporting the idea of network neutrality. The current law in the house is sponsored by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) who introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 3458) in July 2009.

The Con Argument

Not surprisingly, the Con argument is dominated by conservatives in both the government and corporate communities.

John McCain (who is also accused by the Huffington Post as having received more than $800,000 in campaign funding by AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast) rejected the FCC’s vote, and offered a new proposal called the “Internet Freedom Act.”

“Today I’m pleased to introduce the Internet Freedom Act of 2009 that will keep the Internet free from government control and regulation,” McCain said in a statement. “It will allow for continued innovation that will in turn create more high-paying jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeking new employment. Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy.” (CNN)

The only thing missing in the above cliché-filled statement is a series of pictures of crying babies, unemployment lines, and California wildfires. The bottom line here is that politicians, bending to pressure or contributions from opposition parties, will use any words available to tug at either emotions or heart strings, regardless of the presence of factual data to support the position.

AT&T allegedly sent notice to all their employees, including union members and families, to write their representatives in favor of knocking down network neutrality. Perhaps that is a natural activity in the political process, however bandwagon appeals without supporting fact will not give the American people the broadband environment needed to compete in the global market placed.

Let’s look at both arguments in detail. Do a Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other web search on the topic of Net/Network Neutrality. You will find a lot of web references, news stories, blogs, and opinions on the topic. Much of it anarchistic noise, much of it very valuable information.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber, asks the question “What if the United States falls further behind Europe in deployment of broadband networks? What if we lose track of the need to wire each and every community? What if the United States falls so far behind Europe and the rest of the world due to politics preventing innovation that we can never economically recover?”

There are those who still believe the carriers, such as Verizon, AT&T, broadband wireless providers (such as Clearwire), and the cable companies should concentrate their efforts on delivering connectivity to each and every addressable community in the United States. Facility-based carriers (those who own the physical cable) should concentrate on providing bundles of “big, fat, dumb, communications pipes.”

Comments on Net Neutrality are Now Open with the FCC

The great thing about the US system is that no national law is ever a unilateral decision. We have a wonderful system of due-diligence through the congress and senate, with support from the executive and judicial branches of government.

The Federal Communications Commission under the leadership of Chairman Genachowski has opened discussion and the period of comment on the FCC guidelines. The period for comments is open until 14 Jan 2010. Some links for those interested in the topic include:

FCC Seeks Public Input on Draft Rules to Preserve the Free and Open Internet
NPRM: Word | Acrobat
News Release: Word | Acrobat
Genachowski Statement: Word | Acrobat
Copps Statement: Word | Acrobat
McDowell Statement: Word | Acrobat
Clyburn Statement: Word | Acrobat
Baker Statement: Word | Acrobat
Staff Presentation: Acrobat

The question arises, “what if we, as Americans interested in the future of the Internet, American innovation, the American economy, and our future generations actually took the time to read through the issue of Network Neutrality? What if we used our research as a basis for making our own decision on which side of the debate we fall, or if there is yet another strong argument to consider?”

It is a difficult topic, with a lot of noise and clouds shrouding the core issues. Weigh-in, let us know your opinion.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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

Digg!

Part 1 – Internet Peering, Net Neutrality, and Serving the “Eyeballs”

This is part 1 in a series on Internet peering and network neutrality

In an Internet “shot heard round the world,” AT&T’s former chairman Ed Whitacre stated in reference to Google and Microsoft’s Internet content:

“How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?” (Ed Whitacre, Former Chairman of AT&T)

Not withstanding the fact Whitacre neglected to mention much of his network was subsidized with public money supplied through Universal Services Fund fees (USF), and that individual subscribers are already paying for accessing content through the Internet, AT&T’s attitude was a wakeup call to both the Internet user community, and Internet-enabled content providers.

The American commercial Internet scene has been dominated with a select few “Tier 1” service providers, including AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and Level 3.  Those service providers carry Internet traffic through large capacity network pipes around the country to most of the major cities, and then deliver consumer services or hand off Internet traffic to smaller, local service providers and cable TV companies.  The Tier 1 network providers not only provide a large portion of the long distance transport of traffic, but also carry a complete table of Internet routes, which maps the manner in which Internet traffic finds its way around the world.

So, if you are a network manager for AT&T, it is in your interest to have as many smaller networks and content providers connected to you as possible, as you make money on both sides of the “eyeball” to “content” relationship.

The smaller networks don’t see it that way.  A network (such as Colour Broadband) serving a local market in Long Beach, California needs to serve content to its clients.  If they serve a lot of content, in AT&T’s perfect world they would continue buying larger and larger network “pipes” to accommodate demand from their eyeball customers. 

On the other hand, if a Google or Microsoft had a presence within the LA area, and could connect their content directly to the Long Beach network, bypassing AT&T, then theoretically you would be able to get better network performance (by eliminating a “transit” network), and deliver the content to “eyeballs” without having to pay a fee to the “middle man” (again, AT&T).

This type of relationship is called “peering” in the Internet world.  To get customers the best performance, for the lowest cost, access networks such as Colour Broadband establish a point of presence in a location where they can meet as many other networks as possible. 

In Los Angeles, facilities like One Wilshire in downtown LA, or other facilities located in nearby buildings offer both data center colocation space, as well as meet-me-rooms and Internet exchange points (IXPs) where content providers can store their media, and network providers can connect to other networks and content providers in a single location.

This “peering” is the way networks and content providers can bypass the Tier 1 networks.  Much of the fiber optic cable needed to connect a company like Colour Broadband to Google, YouTube, or Sony is available though neutral alternative telecom carriers, such as utility provider Southern California Edison, Wilshire Connection, or Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

Once Colour Broadband has established a physical presence within a colocation facility in downtown Los Angeles it becomes fairly easy to establish individual interconnections with other networks and content providers – or connect one-to-many via an Internet exchange point such as Any2, Equinix IBX, or the LAIIX (Los Angeles International Internet Exchange). 

Every interconnection Colour Broadband makes in Los Angeles is a percentage of traffic they will not have to pay AT&T or one of the other Tier 1 networks.

The Tier 1 networks still have a role to play.  Colour Broadband still needs to provide its customers access to content in other countries such as Russia and Spain.  They may not be able to find networks serving Russia or Spain within the downtown LA peering community, and thus will still need to pay AT&T or another Tier 1 network provider to make that global connection.

The intent of Colour Broadband using their downtown colocation facility and peering relationships is to:

  • Reduce operational expenses by eliminating their need to connect to Tier 1 network providers for connecting to other networks and content
  • Improve performance by eliminating physical transit networks operating as a middle man between Colour Broadband and other networks or content
  • Provide an additional layer of disaster recovery capability in the event a primary Tier 1 has network problems or service failure

Peering for content providers and access networks is the best expression of companies taking control of their destiny, and network neutrality.

In the next segment we will have an interview with Peter Cohen, an Internet peering expert and long time peering manager with network service providers in the US and Europe.

 

John Savageau, Long Beach

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