Sunday, January 22, 2006

Equal Access for Some Is Good

A few months ago, I started hearing rumblings from executives at AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon that they were considering restricting other services that ride over their Internet access services. The initial reaction by the Internet community including myself was outrage that they would even consider crippling services that were not their own. For those that believe in regulation, it was just another example of why the government should regulate the telecom industry. As time passed their intentions were better defined for the pundits and the rest of the industry.

Although they did not initially clearly articulate their intentions, the “Big Three” are advocating introducing tiered service levels in their networks. It is about time that the major carriers in North America started to offer quality of service (QoS) options for its residential and business customers. Most business data services have had some form of service assurance for the past few years, but not residential data services. AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon should be praised and supported in their efforts to offer QoS and service level agreements (SLA) across their networks as long as they do not abuse it to their benefit. My hope that it will spur upgrades to their networks to increase bandwidth and improve service quality.

Other Internet service providers such as Vonage, 8x8, Google, Yahoo and others mistrust the RBOC’s intentions. Their suspicion is that the RBOC will use QoS mechanisms to block or degrade their services in order to give preference to RBOC services. Let’s hope that this is not their intention. Internet service providers should abide by an Internet User’s Bill of Rights:

Article I: The access provider shall block no services to the user unless they are causing harm to the network.

Article II: The access provider shall give no preference to their own services unless they offer the same preference to competing providers at equal cost.

Article III: The user should be able to pay and manage a higher quality of service.

If a carrier abides by this Bill of Rights, then the Googles and Netflix of the world can compete on a level playing field with the RBOC and the user experience will be improved. I would certainly pay an extra $5 per month to Vonage or Comcast to insure that my VoIP calls will have a mean opinion score of 3.8 or better. Presently the public Internet is a best effort service. Time sensitive services have varying quality which leads to an inequality towards the service provider since they can guarantee the experience of the services that are confined to their network. This effort by AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon will allow service providers such as Vonage to provide the same user experience as BellSouth’s VoIP service.

I applaud the RBOC’s effort, and I hope that Qwest, the cable companies, and other internet service providers offer similar capabilities for their access services. Internet access providers should form an industry coalition to define implementation and interoperability of QoS levels. This would enable service providers to provide consistent service level agreements across the Internet. Such a coalition would circumvent intervention by the FCC or other regulatory agencies. Let’s hope that the industry can come together to benefit consumers though higher quality and increased services over the Internet.

Tag: AT&T, BellSouth, Verizon, RBOC, Internet, QoS