Net Neutrality Under Pressure

You may remember that two years ago I blogged about the interview I gave for the FTC Internet Access Task Force (IATF).
You can read more about Network Neutrality at another blog entry of mine.

What worries me today, is the article at the Wall Street Journal, headline “Google Wants Its Own Fast Track on the Web“:

    A short quote says, “…Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.
    At risk is a principle known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same — nobody is supposed to jump the line…”

Such a move is extremely bad. It reminds me of the times, about 10-12 years ago, when Bulgarian major portal dir.bg, decided to start talking about possibly charging Internet Service Providers (cable and phone companies, that is) money, because they (dir.bg) were ensuring content for the Internet users. In other words, if there was no dir.bg, the users would have not been interested in using the Internet at all.

The proposal, of course, was met with laughter by the ISPs (I was the CEO of the second in history of Bulgaria ISP at that time). It was true that dir.bg was the most popular portal at that time, with plenty of new features, but it was also true that there was no way to make us pay any money for accessing it.

The move by the US phone and cable companies, is not dangerous for the users. It is fundamentally wrong. Neither the content providers, nor the cable/phone/ISP companies should be asked to pay for faster access to anything on the Internet. If the FCC does not act on this, then perhaps the FTC should do – especially under the results of the IATF.

Read the IATF report here (PDF), and read FTC commissioner Jon Leibowitz here (PDF).

You have to read both documents, in order to understand the magnitude of the problem.

The problem is huge, and it is dangerous for the Internet users worldwide.

Because what starts today in the USA, may be repeated tomorrow all over the world.

Or may be the US phone and cable companies will try to charge additional money from the content providers, not located in the US? May be Yandex will have to pay, according to that scheme, to the US cable/phone companies, so that the American Internet users can have access to its vast resources? Or may be the Internet will be finally split into one piece – for people who can pay more, and have faster access, and for the rest, who can not pay more, and will have slow connectivity, or no connectivity at all?

    That, on top of the fact that in many cases the countries are having an issue with the fact that they actually have subsidized the access of the American users to their own, national content. Such a paradox happens, when developing countries want to get access to the Internet, and are subject to the high fees of the big phone and cable companies, which put the fiber-optic cables into their countries, and under the sea. Just to give you an example: our first international connection through a contract with a US-based company (Sprint) back in 1995 or 1996 was $ 3600 for 9.6 Kbps (such a speed does not exist nowadays, as the slowest modems sold are 57.6 Kbps, or six times faster)! And we didn’t have a choice until a private Bulgarian company SpectrumLink started offering satellite access.

It is worth remembering also some forgotten stories, as for example the paper “Bandwidth Colonialism? The Implications of Internet Infrastructure on International E-Commerce”.

I hope that if not the FCC, then the FTC, or the DOJ will be able to step in, and ensure that the basic principles of the Internet are not broken by greedy phone and cable companies. And by content providers, being afraid, that they may lose their users because of access control by the phone and cable companies.

And, being from Europe, I am sure that the European Union will have soon its response to (if) the policy change in the US. One remark, though: When something is under pressure, it often weakens. Let’s see what the result of all this discussion will be.

Update:
Here is a response from Google about the article.
And here’s a response from Larry Lessig.

Basically, both publications say that the WSJ got it wrong. I will be following this, with regards to both Google, and Larry, but also to other companies, possibly thinking of following the step of either providing caching services, co-located at the cable/phone companies’ premises, or something different, which may have impact not in the US, but rather in other countries.

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2 Responses to Net Neutrality Under Pressure

  1. Gene Gaines says:

    Veni,

    Sorry, but what you wrote here is totally wrong.

    You base this blog item on an incorrect article in the Wall Street Journal. The article is just wrong, obviously is a dishonest attempt to create a sensation by incorrectly accusing Google of actions that did not happen.

    Now there are many news items and referenced sources that provide the data that proves the Wall Street article is wrong.

    Veni, now that the article is disproven, please do not leave your misleading headline and first several paragraphs stand. We know that the Wall Street Journal, unfortunately, can, from time to time, operate on a “pay to play” like the unfortunate governor of the U.S. state Illinois. The issue is Network Neutrality is too important to let dishonest interests muddy the issue. Please revise your article. Gene Gaines, Sterling, Virginia, USA

    • Hi, Gene.
      Actually I put an update at the end of my entry. But that doesn’t change the fact that Net Neutrality *is* under pressure – and there are many companies that lobby exactly in that direction. So, I think the blog entry should remain 😉

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