Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 9th Jun 2006 11:22 UTC, submitted by Dylan
Internet & Networking The US House of Representatives definitively rejected the concept of Net neutrality on Thursday, dealing a bitter blow to Internet companies like Amazon.com, eBay and Google that had engaged in a last-minute lobbying campaign to support it. By a 269-152 vote that fell largely along party lines, the House Republican leadership mustered enough votes to reject a Democrat-backed amendment that would have enshrined stiff Net neutrality regulations into federal law and prevented broadband providers from treating some Internet sites differently from others.
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So little information, so much noise!
by cr8dle2grave on Fri 9th Jun 2006 19:51 UTC
cr8dle2grave
Member since:
2005-07-11

It's astonishing how much noise the debate over net neutrality has generated when one considers how little real substantive information on the matter is out there. By reflex, I'm all for net neutrality, but I've been genuinely dismayed by a lot of the shrill fear mongering and outright misinformation coming from the pro-neutrality camp.

Cutting through all the crap, it appears the only thing we really know about the intentions of the large upstream providers is that they've been engaged in discussions with FCC regulators concerning the implementation of QoS routing. The idea of implementing QoS routing across the backbone segments of the net is an intersting one. It's also a frightening one. The potential for abuse is huge, but I'm not ready to totally dismiss the idea out of hand either; QoS routing has many completely legitimate applications.

So what are the upstream providers really up to here?

The pro-neutrality camp seems to me to be pushing a collection of distopian visions consisting of worst possible case scenarios. A fractious network where every interconnect is transformed into a lever of extortion. A network where each provider is individually empowered to negotiate with content providers for passage across their pipes. A network where the last mile providers are free to impede or even outright block access to whatever they please without any oversight whatsoever.

Scary indeed. But such distopian visions are also highly implausible. In order for such frightening eventualities to really come to pass it would essentially require dismantling the entire regulatory edifice as implemented Congress and overseen by FCC. This strikes me as extraordinarily unlikely.

Which brings me to my next point. Those from the anti-neutrality camp preaching the virtues of free markets solutions are guilty of an egregious misrepresentation. What's wrong with letting the free market decide? After all, that's the capitalist way, the American way, right?

There is no free market. The only private industry in the U.S. subject to greater regulatory interventions and oversight than the telecommunications industry would be nuclear power plant operators. Nearly everything done by the large telco companies is subject to oversight and regulatory interventions by the FCC. It's already far, far too late to keep government out of it.

So both sides are guilty of making a false assertion on this point. A vote for the status quo (more acurately a vote against one of the new neutrality provisions) isn't a vote for keeping the government's hands off of the internet, it's a vote for retaining the existing high degree of government control but without any further legislative adjustments to the existing policies.

So what, really, is this whole net neutrality issue all about? I don't know and neither do you. None of us do. There is no publically available information describing exactly what the large telco companies are after. Actually, I suspect that the upstream providers aren't exactly sure of what they are after either. But QoS routing holds the promise of getting more bang for the buck out of their infrastructure. That's obviously appealing to the network providers, but it's also quite appealing to me as a customer as well.

My suspicion is that the upstream providers are moving toward including QoS routing policies into their existing peering agreements. In theory, this would make it possible to retain QoS routing policies as packets traverse the different backbone segments. Additionally, last mile broadband providers, given that their infrastructure supported it, could get in the game too and enforce the same QoS policies across their networks. True end to end QoS routing across the internet (or at least across the American segments of the internet) has the potential to make things such VoIP a far more potent rival to traditional phone service. On the other hand, it hands the network providers and an enormous amount of power which they have financial incentives to abuse in manner detrimental of the rest of us.

What's needed is a careful and sober assessment of the desirable possibilities offered by QoS routing, as well as the corresponding regulatory measures required to ensure that QoS routing isn't abused. That is a debate which should happen prior to passing any new legislation. We should all, regardless of where we fall on this issue, be concerned about overly hasty reactions on the part of Congress. These are very important issues, issues with potentially huge ramifications for both the economy and civil liberties, and I, for one, question whether Congress has been given the information necessary to handle this issue in a fashion which maximizes the benefits while still mitigating the greatest possible harms.

That said, I join the pro-neutrality camp on the following points:

1.) Blocking any endpoint (except for security reasons or as part of an optional customer requested content filtering service) is wholly unacceptable. Period! To do otherwise is to abandon the entire concept of having common carriers in telecommunications infrastructure.

2.) Content providers (website and service operators) must not be obligated to individually negotiate QoS agreements with each and every network operator. If there is to be QoS routing of any sort, then it needs to be included within the framework of the peering agreements between network operators. Forcing a content provider to separately negotiate QoS routing policies with the likes of SBC, Qwest, Sprint places far too many barriers in the way of doing business. If I, as a content provider, purchase bandwidth which includes QoS guarantees as part of my SLA (whether all encompassing or only for specific protocols), then those QoS policies should be enforced across every compliant interconnect (backbone to backbone and backbone to compliant ISP).

The above is not intended to be complete. I'm sure there are many additional stipulations which I would agree are necessary to ensure against abuse. But let's turn up the quality of this discussion and not rush to a hasty judgement which will harm us over the long run.

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