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App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

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February 20, 2008 10:24 AM

Net Neutrality Is Terrifying

Here’s what everyone’s been missing about the whole net neutrality thing: the reason the big, evil telcos and cable companies don’t like it isn’t because they’re greedy, it’s because they’re scared.

We’ve already covered how Comcast’s FCC comments reveal the vulnerability of their network. Now imagine this: net neutrality passes, cablecos can no longer limit P2P traffic, and P2P usage spikes, driven in part by the buzz built up around this brouhaha. Mightn’t that cripple cable networks? That’s 25 million broadband users negatively impacted by this seemingly likely scenario. That would certainly scare me if I was a cableco.

While the telcos are weathering the P2P storm more readily, net neutrality is equally scary to them. Though often painted as a thinly veiled threat, when telcos talk of how net neutrality legislation would cause them to invest less in upgrading the capacity of their network, there’s really another dynamic at work.

In building their business cases for investing billions in FiOS and U-Verse, Verizon and AT&T; have based their revenue projections on the assumption that some of the additional capacity they’re putting into their networks can be used to deploy their own advanced services and offer a higher quality of service to other applications developers in-network. In fact, it’s my basic understanding that this is where they’re counting on realizing most all of their future growth.

The problem with most net neutrality regimes is that they call this fundamental right into question. If all bits are created equal and broadband providers can’t prioritize any traffic, then that means they can’t monetize their investment in building out capacity in the way that they’d planned. And if you take away the portion of their revenue they were counting for future growth, it only makes sense that they would have to revisit the viability of making a multi-billion dollar gamble in upgrading their networks. Not because they want to punish people but because what was already seen as a risky gambit would become a whole lot scarier with strict net neutrality in place.

So now we can see how the resistance to net neutrality hasn’t been driven by pure greed so much as fear. Fear that net neutrality might cripple shared networks, and fear that net neutrality will rob telcos of a key piece of their business model.

Some might still say that greed has everything to do with it and that broadband providers should be pouring billions into their networks without regard for their bottom line because that’s what’s best for the country. But we can’t forget: these are private, for-profit companies. We can’t force them to invest in their networks, but we can certainly dissuade them from doing so if we seek legislation that limits their ability to monetize their network.

But less network investment isn’t what scares me the most about net neutrality. The reason I find it terrifying is that, at least in some interpretations, it negates the possibilities of smart networks that can identify different types of Internet traffic and provide each with the bandwidth it needs to succeed. Net neutrality calls into question the viability of delivering applications in-network, where they can realize a higher level of quality of service than if they reside in the cloud. Instead of protecting Internet freedom, I fear that net neutrality may hold us back from realizing this next generation of the Internet.

Net neutrality also frightens me due to its amorphous, largely undefined nature. Any time the government tries writing broad legislation with the wind of public support at its back but without a solid knowledge of the complex dynamics at work, I cringe. The specter of watching the FCC try to determine everything that is and isn’t OK to do on your network sends chills down my spine. But those fears are nothing compared to the all-too-likely prospect that whatever legislation or regulations are passed will throw us into a decades long battle in the courts to define what really is and isn’t OK when it comes to managing traffic on a network. A drawn out legal battle would almost certainly gum up the gears of any broadband-related legislation and possibly put an end to productive dialogue over how the government can spur the deployment and adoption of broadband altogether.

For these reasons and more, net neutrality can be a very scary thing. This is about far more than the good of net neutrality supporters vs. the evils of the big broadband providers. And if we don’t recognize this moving forward then I’m terrified of where all this will take us.


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Comments (1)

It all starts with a license from the FCC, administrator of the airwaves we own. In return for exclusivity, companies agree to build out network. 1992 saw congressional testimony to the effect that all Americans would realize video phones by 2000. Remember that little detail? Then, they got greedy. Then, along came decentralized broadband infrastructure, and they got scared. So, we're getting more lies, this time in the form that decentralized broadband infrastructure destroys competition. And, our elected officials believe that crap, while holding out their hands for the cash share of the pie.

Did you see the article about the Space Data Corp idea to use balloons to hook up broadband access? Imagine if that would work and be affordable.

Posted by Tom Poe on February 20, 2008 4:26 PM

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