The Network Neutrality Debate: When the Best Effort Is Not Good Enough

by Andy Oram

I just published a long article in a newspaper with a general readership, American Reporter, on the technology, economics, and politics behind the network neutrality debate.


Roger Weeks
2006-06-29 12:41:49
Hi Andy -

Good article, with lots of good explanations.

I'm still personally leery of putting anything through congress, even what you state:

"One recent submission to Congress, which I signed on to, brings the Federal Trade Commission into the picture. It tries to define Internet service so as to exclude discriminatory service, and requires the FTC to police that definition."

What is discriminatory service? If, in the course of my daily job as a network/security admin, I block a specific IP address, or filter an incoming port at our border, is that discriminatory? At that point, I am emphatically NOT "net neutral".

And more to the point, who is going to judge me on my reasons for blocking a port or an IP address? It might be because of hostile behaviour, but it might be something less legally clear, like blocking access to a P2P supernode.

This is the type of thing that worries me. Just because most people accept it, once this kind of language is in law, means that my company is now legally liable, and people with something to prove now can either drag us into court or in front of the FTC. Either would cost us money and time we don't have.

I'm less worried about the bells and their "multi-tier" plan. You state in your article:

"Note that Verizon et al. need not have any immediate network connection with Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft to control their traffic. It's not like you negotiating with your ISP for a faster line, and threatening to take your business elsewhere. Google et al. would have no choice in the matter (assuming they wanted to reach Verizon customers) and no position to bargain from."

I believe that Google, in this case, has an extremely powerful choice and bargaining position: the press. All Google would need to do is start running its own AdWords and web campaign, such that everyone who looks at a Google page: Gmail, Google Video, Froogle, etc would see something like "Are you a Verizon customer? Your ISP is limiting Google traffic to you. Here's what you can do:" with links to call lots of different people inside Verizon, links to alternative ISPs, etc.

The biggest problem, which I think you covered really well, is what happens to small companies, small educational institutions, rural governments, and startup companies.

Unfortunately I don't see any way to help these people out without breaking other things.