Thursday, May 11, 2006

Net Neutrality-Why Would We Rely on Congress?

Every time I hear that another bill is introduced in Congress concerning net neutrality I cringe.  Several of the versions introduced recently would cripple the ability to voice and video services reliably over the Internet.  Language in the bills are often vague and open to interpretation that would make implementing any quality of service mechanism in America illegal.  What is ironic is that this move would hurt the companies that support these bills.

Why are Internet application providers supporting legislation that could reduce the quality of their services?  FUD is why.  Google, Yahoo, and others are afraid that their users will not have access or reduced access if they do not pay additional fees to AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest.  They know the ILEC’s history and distrust them.  The ILECs have not been exactly forthcoming in marketing the benefits to Internet application providers.  Recently all three CEO have publicly clarified their intentions.  Richard Notebart, CEO of Qwest, came out with an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago that was very articulate and full of analogies against net socialism, but it was defensive.  This adversarial relationship between access providers and application providers is being perpetuated in the press by companies like CNET.  The industry’s inability to resolve this situation by itself means that the battle will be taken to Congress where the companies with the most influence will determine the outcome.

Why is there so much resistance to prioritizing some services over others?  Is it so complex that only engineers understand the details?  As with relationships, it is all in how you present the issue.  Name changes and big advertising agencies have not changed the nature of how the ILEC communicate with their customers.  Initial statements by the CEO of AT&T and Verizon that Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Vonage are freeloaders were truly argumentative.  I am sure that the middle managers in these companies did not intend for the message to be delivered in that manner;  call it CEO prerogative.  Eventually the rhetoric was toned down and they clarified their intent, but the damage was done.  Application providers and the press were in a defensive posture.

This whole mess could have been avoided by a smart public relations campaign that communicated two simple messages to application providers and the public:
  1. All applications are not created equal.  Voice and video services need to move through the network before web browsing and e-mail.

  2. All services will operate as they do today without prioritization.  No services will be purposely degraded by implementation of this mechanism, actually all services should operate better.
In reality the ILEC were announcing a new product release so they should have carefully planned its introduction.  Engineers and developers in application providers and the technical press would have been given privy to the details of the implementation.  Given all of the details in a non-confrontational manner, my belief is that they would have supported it and asked when they could sign up for the service.  Now the issue will be resolved in Congress which will give us a non-optimal solution.  

Should packet prioritization be illegal, the United States continue its decline in broadband access and services.  As I have stated in previous articles, we are already behind Asia and some European countries.  This move will facilitate a continued decline.  We can have net neutrality with service prioritization.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Hopefully any legislation passed will account for that fact.

In my next blog article, I will compare principles of net neutrality with packet prioritization.

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