links for 2006-06-01

Neutrality in the News

Here is a roundup of some of the more interesting and thoughtful recent articles, posts and audio bits concerning network neutrality policy:
Michael Grebb, Wired News: Neutral Net? Who Are You Kidding?: “Six months ago, few outside of internet policy wonk circles were aware of the issue. Now, the best-known brands on the net are flexing their lobbying muscles for and against it, and lawmakers have responded with a raft of competing bills. As the debate reaches fever pitch, it seems fair to ask: How neutral is the net right now?”
Unfortunately, even though neutrality is a critically important facilitator of free speech and democratic dialogue, it is still difficult to explain in succinct talking points. Bob Frankston finds an analogy that helps to make the “net neutrality” question somewhat more tangible and less theoretic: Sidewalks: Paying by the Stroll: “I’ve been immersed in so-called tele-communications issues for a long time but I haven’t posted too much lately because I’m not satisfied with net neutrality and am trying to figure out how to explain that the problem is more fundamental (as in ‘Telecom Phrase’). How come I have to plead for neutrality when we’re talking about infrastructure that we should own?”
Ben Scott (Free Press), Mark Cooper (Consumer Federation of America) and Jeannine Kenney (Consumers Union): Why Consumers Demand Internet Freedom: Network Neutrality Fact vs. Fiction: “Network Neutrality protections have existed for the entire history of te Internet. opponents of Internet freedom pretend that Network Neutrality protections would mean new, onerous government regulations. But advocates of Network Neutrality are not promoting new regulations. We are preserving tried and tested consumer protections and network operating principles that have made the Internet the greatest engine of economic growth and democratic communication in modern memory.”
At the WSJ, Mike McCurry (Telecom lobbyist) and Craig Newmark (Founder of Craigslist) debate net neutrality regulation: Should the Net Be Neutral?: “Newmark: Mike says ‘let the current rules govern’ and that’s what we’re trying to do, trying to stop the big guys from changing the rules via the Federal Communications Commission. We’re trying to preserve the level playing field. It’s just fairness. Americans want to play fair, work hard and get ahead. That’s what net neutrality is about.”
Adam Cohen, NY Times: Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End: “The World Wide Web is the most democratic mass medium there has ever been. Freedom of the press, as the saying goes, belongs only to those who own one. Radio and television are controlled by those rich enough to buy a broadcast license. But anyone with an Internet-connected computer can reach out to a potential audience of billions.”
Susan Crawford: Comparative broadband ideas: “How do you increase competition in the U.S. for broadband access?  Right now, we have giants fighting with each other — cable and telephone companies.  Small numbers of these companies control 80%-90% of the market for broadband access.  After the BellSouth merger, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast alone will control 49% of the market”
Susan Crawford: The definition of net neutrality: “There are lots of people out there saying ‘we need to treat all VoIP alike, all video alike, and all blogs alike.” For them, that’s network neutrality. That’s not what I hope we’ll end up meaning by net neutrality.’ That would require a heavy-handed regulator enforcing a provider’s determination of what packets are ‘like’ other packets.’ I am not in favor of that approach. I have a different vision.’ I hope, someday, we’ll treat broadband access like the utility it is.’ That would mean separating transport from other activities, and separating access from backbone and backhaul transport.’ That doesn’t require a great deal of discretion to repose in any particular actor.”
David Isenberg: What’s driving the next telecom law: “Until this decade, law has treated the telephone network as a public accommodation, meaning that non-discriminatory access to the network, known as network neutrality in the current policy debate, was assured. On the Internet, though, non-discriminatory access leads straight to the erosion of the telco/cableco business model by third parties that would not behave as ‘rational competitors.’ This is why telephone companies are fighting fiercely against non-discriminatory access.”
John Reinan, Star Tribune: Access to the Internet: Is it a right or a privilege?: “Imagine if the Internet were like cable TV. You pay $40 a month to Time Warner or Comcast, and you get a menu of 80 websites to visit. Want to go to a site devoted to Japanese anime cartoons? Sorry, that’s not on the menu. Looking for that crazy blog about the history of matchbook covers? No longer available — or so slow to load it’s not worth your while.
NPR All Things Considered: Internet Debate: Preserving User Parity: “Should the Internet be divided into fast and slow lanes? That’s the question at the heart of the debate over ‘network neutrality.’ Broadband providers have clashed with Internet and software companies, who are concerned that giving some users preferential treatment for a price effectively shuts out competition.”
On the Media: Information Toll Road: ” couple of months back, we discussed the prospect that one day the Internet might be split into a fast lane and a slow lane. That’s because the telephone and cable companies that supply us with broadband service believe they’re getting a raw deal. They say that content providers ought to be willing to pay extra for the high-speed delivery that is now available to all, a state of affairs called “network neutrality.” Well, that fateful day may fast be approaching. ”
Public Radio Exchange: Four Voices from Freedom to Connect The hour consists of excerpts from four talks given at Freedom to Connect in Washington, D.C. on April 3 & 4, 2006: Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), Chris Sacca (Google), Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt”

links for 2006-05-23

Broadband Here and There

The New York Times reports on the bundle of communications services offered by a cable television company in Japan: In Japan, a Provider of Cable Ups the Ante: “In addition to a basic television package, he gets a digital phone line and a broadband connection with a top speed of 30 megabits a second, about six times as fast as that offered by most American cable companies. He pays about $130 a month for the three services and some premium channels.”
Here in NYC, Time Warner offers a bundle of basic cable, digital phone service and internet service for only $99/month. But that is only a 768 kbps internet service. For the same price as the Japanese plan discussed in the Times article– $129.95/month– Time Warner will provide internet access at “speeds of up to 5 Mbps”– 6 times slower than the Japanese competitor. And on the high-speed internet access in NYC, uploads are limited to a paltry 384 kbps. Pity the poor podcaster or videoblogger who can upload her files at less than 10% of the advertised top speed of her connection.
And Japan is not alone in eclipsing the US. Public Knowledge’s Art Brodsky saw a broadband ad in the London Underground:

The advertisement on the wall in the subway station was hard to believe — a broadband service with 24 meg download for about $45 per month. That was the good news. Unfortunately, the service isn’t available in the U.S. The ad was on the wall of tube stop in London and the company, Be, http://www.bethere.co.uk is British. Just to rub it in a little, it gets better. There is also a cheaper option, about $25 per month, which still gets you the 24 mbps download, but with a slower upload speed. This in a city in which a bottle of water will set you back about $2.25.

How will insulating broadband providers from competition allow the US to compete in the wired world?

Impact of a discriminatory internet

The Hill: Finance firms may weigh in on net-neutrality battle: “The financial-services industry is considering coordinated opposition to the ‘net neutrality’ language in the House’s video franchising bill, fearing a financial hit if lawmakers allow phone and cable companies to charge banks more for secure Web service.”
Besides telecom companies, does anyone else benefit from a non-neutral internet?

Your Neutralness

Earlier today, a producer from the public radio program Open Source called me to discuss net neutrality. Because they could get actual experts and more interesting speakers, they didn’t need me (but it was nice that they got all the way down the list to think of me!)
Open Source: Net Neutrality, May 4, 2006.
After talking briefly and disjointedly about network neutrality, I think I clarified some points in my own mind.
Why not regulate? The case against neutrality regulation:

  1. Regulations may be burdensome– and may serve to make internet access more expensive, discourage investment and keep the US part of the internet stuck in 2005 while the rest of the world develops.
  2. A discriminatory network allows certain services to have priority. When downloading a file, it doesn’t really matter whether the bits arrive at the client in the proper order, so long as they eventually all arrive and end up in the correct order. When using VoIP or streaming a movie, it matters that the bits arrive in the correct order and in a timely fashion. Allowing ISPs to discriminate makes the internet feel faster without having to invest money in expensive bandwidth.
  3. By not regulating internet services, internet service providers are free to develop the most innovative services possible.
  4. A discriminatory internet is excellent for cable and telecom companies. Not requiring neutrality will allow telecom and cable companies to extract the full potential value from their networks. If you were running an ISP, which would you prefer– all-you-can eat pricing or a system that charges premium prices for premium features?

Why is Net Neutrality Important? The case for neutrality:

  1. Neutrality advances the overall usefulness of the internet quicker. Because broadband internet service providers can compete only on bandwidth, the more bandwidth that is available the more advanced services can be created. Instead of deploying only high-revenue services, broadband providers will have to compete on bandwidth and reliability.
  2. A neutral internet promotes free speech. Publishing to a discriminatory internet could be more like deploying a new cable television network and require negotiating a carriage agreement with all major end-user internet service providers. A non-neutral internet looks more like the mobile phone system, which feels expensive.
  3. A neutral internet is excellent for everyone who sends data over the internet. In a discriminatory internet, publishers (which includes not just Yahoo, Google and Microsoft, but also your local newspaper, the neighborhood association, and state, federal and local governments) have to pay not only to connect to the internet and for bandwidth, but could also need to pay a connection fee (protection money) to be able to send data to each of the major local internet providers.
  4. A neutral internet promotes creativity and free speech. Instead of pigeon-holing services into particular tiers, it allows innovators to develop new services and ways of sharing information.
  5. A neutral internet is cheaper. A preferential, proprietary internet requires more expensive routers that move preferred packets into an HOV lane. As bandwidth gets cheaper and cheaper, it is probably cheaper and more cost effective for the individuals, small businesses and large companies who use the internet to pay for wider information superhighways than adding an HOV lane to the existing networks.
  6. Regulation may be necessary because the broadband internet services market is not a classically free market. Individuals generally have the option of choosing service from their local telephone company or local cable company. Where a market failure exists, regulation prevents entrenched interests from exerting undue market power. See e.g. the entire body of antitrust law.
  7. A non-neutral internet would be more like Minitel than like the internet we know and love today.

Like railroads and shipping lines, the analog telephone system is a common carrier network. One is able to reasonably use the network to call any other person. The common carrier may not deny transmitting a call between two willing participants because of the content of the speech transmitted. The telephone company can not discriminate against a customer who uses the common carrier network to discuss how they dislike the president or the phone company. The telephone company can not discriminate against a customer who uses the network to use a modem to dial a third-party internet service provider or BBS. In a neutral internet, internet service providers must act like common carriers. A non-neutral internet might allow internet providers to prevent users from using encrypted connections to corporate networks or third party VoIP services.