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Net Neutrality: Cut the Rhetoric, Deal with the Issues

by Sue Rudd | 5月 27, 2010

Throttle or Choke.‘Net Neutrality’ proponents argue that there should be no restrictions by service providers on any type of end-user access to content, equipment or modes of communication but in April a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had exceeded its authority when it told Comcast not to ‘throttle’ BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer video exchange and related applications - even though BitTorrent was ‘choking’ performance for other Comcast users. FCC is now proposing additional regulation and Congress is getting in on the act. Lurking behind the partisan rhetoric of ‘Net neutrality’ are serious issues. It is time to deal with them. Issue 1. Harm to the Network. Ironically Comcast was trying to protect its customers from ‘harm to the network’ as the Communications Act requires. Many service providers - including many mobile operators - are struggling to manage the disproportionate traffic demands of a few heavy duty users whose peer-to-peer or high bandwidth applications slow down performance for everyone else. Solution: Some equitable form of network management is not only reasonable but essential for the broadband networks to function. Issue 2. Service Quality at a Fair Price. Insistence by ‘Net Neutrality’ advocates that everyone get the same access with the same ‘class of service’ leads rapidly to a lowest common denominator for all. When video ‘bandwidth hogs’ block more time sensitive or more valuable, low bandwidth applications there is a good case for throughput guarantees. Solution: In both fixed and mobile broadband markets, tiered classes of service for different user applications with different bandwidth requirements and different priorities at different prices will enable operators to balance broadband traffic demand with new capacity expansion. Issue 3. Exclusive Walled Gardens. The owners of broadband access have been tempted recently to consider exclusive deals with preferred application and content providers – like Google and YouTube. Often there are only one or two access providers, so small new or innovative vendors are concerned they will be relegated to a lower class of service. This is not just a US issue. In April European Union telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes suggested that “users should be able to access and distribute the content, services and applications they want”…”Nor should telecommunications providers be allowed to block services provided by direct competitors.” Solution: Toll highway operators should not choose the customers’ automobiles. Nor should the automobile companies pay the user tolls in advance for the fastest highways. A primary reason for communications regulation is to prevent access providers from extending their power to control access to limit content choice or overcharge for services. Networks need a clear and neutral boundary between transport and applications so that choices are separate and made by end users. Let’s deal with the real challenges to delivering broadband for all - instead of firing political rhetoric at one another
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