Thursday, November 19, 2009

In support of Net Neutrality

We just received the internal newsletter of my employer, and it included an article stating the position of some people in my company with respect to Net Neutrality.

Obviously I could not stand still and had to comment on the article, with a comment almost as long as the article itself. Here is my comment:

Unfortunately, I must voice my strong objections to the reasoning and conclusion of Mr. *********.

It is indeed not at all clear that Net Neutrality would stifle the "Internet revolution" nor the "Digital revolution". In reality, hard facts and present experience with 3G point to the exact opposite; I will come back to this point latter.

What’s more alarming, I am shocked at the portrait that the article’s author and Mr. ****** paint of what Net Neutrality is all about.

Even though some fringe advocates of net neutrality do preach a policy of “all packets are equal” and “no preference, no QOS” this is not at all the version of Net Neutrality pushed by Internet companies and worked-on by the US Congress, the Canadian CRTC and other regulatory bodies.

The actual version of Net Neutrality that is being pushed and worked on by policy makers is one where there is: freedom of devices connected to the network, freedom of traffic using the network, clear and open pricing policies, and clear and entrenched in law methods for managing network traffic.

I am not sure of why these currently debated by legislature aspects of Net Neutrality are left out of the article. As far as my knowledge goes, no legislature around the world is considering imposing a “free for all” on the Internet, as Mr. ******* and the author appear top be implying in the article.

In today’s legal frameworks, without Net Neutrality laws, traffic operators are allowed to discriminate traffic almost without oversight, without rules and without disclosure. This is completely unacceptable, and my favorite metaphor to explain this (even though it is not 100% analogous) is the teenage-daughter/son 3 hour phone call. In the 90ies, before the Internet, teenagers such as myself, used to spend hours on the telephone, blocking the telephone traffic to everyone else in the house. Without Net Neutrality, an operator that detects such a call could break it, with no warning, no reason given. This is unacceptable.

Now that I’ve clarified what Net Neutrality is really all about, I want to address the question of Internet and Digital revolution. The best way to do this is through an example. As early as 2000 I remember talks of 3G networks going live in Japan, maybe in Spain too.

That was 10 years ago, and 3G is barely coming to Canada. Why so long?

Because the iPhone didn’t exist 10 years ago. The painful truth is that the arrival of the iPhone + Internet (YouTube, etc…) is the main reason for the explosion in 3G networks in North America. What needs to be understood is that 3G and its extra revenues for operators and vendors are entirely dependant on new devices and the fact that they are connected to the Internet, and to the fact that the Internet has developed to offer so much to customers.

Basically there is no such thing as Internet vs. Digital revolution; they are all the same: just because a phone-app disguises You Tube under a custom GUI, it doesn’t mean that this is now purely a Digital service. It actually is an Internet service. How many failed attempts at encouraging network traffic by operators, and how many successful attempts of creating traffic by Internet companies are there? Everyone has their forte, it’s important to discover and understand this.

Finally, I want to correct a metaphor used by Mr. *********, the IP packets on networks as cars on the road. As I mention above, Net Neutrality does not at all advocate removing traffic lights (traffic control) on the roads. What Net Neutrality advocates is, if a big 18 wheeler trucks wants to pass on your road or on your bridge, do your best to make it pass as quickly as possible.

And this is exactly what the road system in all developed countries does. True, there might be pay-tools, reserved lanes, time regulations, but all road networks in the world strive at transporting as much people and goods as the system possibly allows (even stretching the limits of the system, just take a look at the state of roads in Montreal).

Why is this effort at carrying traffic on roads? Because the value added, the wealth creation, the job creation, the trade, it is all done and is all a result of the trucks and cars using these roads, not the roads themselves. These are the units of economic activity that must be helped, protected and encouraged the most: the vehicles, not the actual roads themselves.

What *********and telecom operators need to understand is that, the more vehicles, equals more wealth creation and more need for the roads on which these vehicles of economic activity travel.

Suddenly, Net Neutrality makes much more sense, and opposing it could be a strategic mistake.

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