Monday, October 02, 2006

Legislation Mandating Network Neutrality...The Right Thing?

The US Congress is considering legislation that will either require network neutrality of US carriers, or allow them to prioritize traffic over their own networks specific to their own services. Is this the right thing...and for who? Should US carriers be allowed to prioritize their own traffic over their networks, or should they be required to treat all traffic the same?

I understand the carriers desire to control what and how much goes over their network, but I don't see how prioritizing internet traffic will be beneficial to the end user.

On the other side, isn't his much like what data carriers are doing today with frame relay and ATM, and graceful discard? Customers are given a specific Commited Rate or minimum guarenteed bandwidth. Above that the excess packets are prioritized based on the type of traffic it is. Example if there is congestion, Billy Joe Jim Bob's Tackle and Bait store's excess packets would be dropped before the Florida Highway Patrol, or Wall Street.

I am against more regulation as matter of principal. Governments too often fail to have clear objectives with legislation, and rarely a review process to validate either the continuing validity of the objective or the requirements they have established.

The perception of one "Internet" is false to begin with. Most traffic rides on one or more carrier backbones, and move between carriers at peering points outside of the true Internet. The paths around any carrier who tries to restrict traffic other than his own (which is not the same as prioritizing his own traffic) are too many for any one carrier to be an issue. Prioritizing only becomes an issue when the regular traffic faces congestion based latency.

The key concern would be that a combined carrier would discriminate against competing application service providers. While I understand the concern, there are several natural barriers to this.

First is competing carriers. Any carrier that started on a policy to block particular type of application service would become an immediate target for competing bandwidth providers. The market campaign would be simple - "At (competing carrier) we believe in a level playing field for all services." In American culture, this alone would cause a significant shift in customer preference. This same condition is fertile ground for new carriers.

Next, an SLA can be written to insure performance levels from a customer perspective, regardless of whether the customer is an application service provider or a business user of network services.

Blocking a particular application will prove to be as difficult as blocking spam. Application service providers will find multiple ways to bypass any attempts by carriers to block service.

A blessing in disguise is the likely improvements by network designers and application developers if bandwidth and latency become common issues.

There is no monopoly on the copper loop. Companies other than the copper owner can offer DSL, as well as traditional voice services, over the facility. Its a question of competition. To succeed the competitor has to offer a cost or services advantage while still making a profit. In many areas, the margin for success has been deemed to small to risk the effort.

The former Bells have had to keep their various revenue and resource streams separate for some time now. Local telephone, long distance, and enhanced services (Internet) departments have had limited ability to cooperate internally. These restrictions are due to be lifted later this year unless Congress intervenes.

The move from analog to digital cable has opened the door for cable TV services to expand into traditional telephone services. The rules that constrained the Bells did not always apply to cable providers.

Wireless has become a reasonable alternative for the local loop in many areas. Again, its a matter of competing on cost or service. Where DSL and cable are available, the fixed wireless alternative has been a risky venture. In areas where DSL and cable do not exist, its a question of market size for a particular price. All of these also compete against satellite, which meets broadband needs when latency is not a factor.

Size does matter, though. A broadband carrier today must compete with the world for any Internet services. Since economies of scale come into play, competing on price with a provider like Vonage for VoIP is almost impossible.

VoIP has had an added advantage against traditional telephone providers by being considered simply another application. This means they have been exempt from the fees and taxes local, state, and federal government has put on telephone service here. On a traditional residential phone line in Texas, these fees total more than the basic line rate.

The net neutrality arguments are clouded, confusing, questionable and adding more legislation to an overlegislated industry isn't wise.

Convergence has proven that the telecom regulations are outdated and outmoded and unable to keep up with the technological forces of change.

I would only suggest further reading and a lot of pondering before acting either way - for or against.

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