Mighty Google is worried about getting the shaft from telcos. Shouldn’t you be too?

Larry Downes imagines the worst
Larry Downes’ arguments against net neutrality are button-pushing propaganda designed to inflame, not illuminate. I expect better from a University of Chicago trained lawyer.

In response I’m going to look at the text of a net neutrality proposal and then at Mr. Downes’ mostly irrelevant points.

What is being proposed?
Let’s start with Congressman Markey’s proposed Network Neutrality Act and decide for yourself? The PDF is only 11 pages, while the dread regulations are barely 4 pages.

Here are the core “regulations” Mr. Downs is so afraid of. From the bill, Internet providers may

not block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to utilize their broadband service

for lawful content, applications and services. I expect no less.

Furthermore, service providers are required to

clearly and conspicuously disclose to users, in plain language, accurate information about the speed, nature, and limitations of their broadband service

Truth-in-advertising? Telco marketing will never adapt!

How about this requirement?

offer, upon reasonable request to any person, a broadband service for use by such person to offer or access unaffiliated content, applications, and services

Requiring telcos to take new customers? Tricksy Mr. Markey.

Here’s what gets the telcos mad
The bill requires that a telco

not discriminate in favor of itself in the allocation, use, or quality of broadband services or interconnection with other broadband networks

Isn’t that a Communist common-carrier requirement? Gee, why own a big network if you can’t screw your competitors? No wonder the telcos are miffed.

This gets them madder
Broadband service providers will be required to:

offer a service such that content, applications, or service providers can offer unaffiliated content, applications, or services in a manner that is at least equal to the speed and quality of service that the operator’s content, applications, or service is accessed and offered, and without interference or surcharges on the basis of such content, applications, or services

Hm-m? Requiring equal treatment of unaffiliated content? Just like telegraph companies had to 160 years ago? Medieval.

Now telcos see red
Here’s the heart of the matter. The law would require that

if the broadband network provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or quality of service

[emphasis added]

The heart of the matter
The telco can charge for more, time, speed or bandwidth, but they can’t charge more for preferential treatment of packets. This is what being a common carrier means.

The Downes critique, fearlessly knocking down straw men
Larry’s article is mostly a big cloud of smoke, irrelevant to the question of net neutrality:

  • Railroad asset accounting has nothing to do with treating packets equally
  • Airlines wanted the CAB’s regulation and fought to preserve it to avoid competition
  • SOX addresses another financial accounting problem

There are many examples of regulation that works: the drugs we take; the airlines we fly; the building codes that make our homes, offices, schools and factories safer.

Network designers demand non-neutrality?
Mr. Downes then concludes that net neutrality would stymie web engineers efforts to optimize Web traffic.

He might be referring to Bob Briscoe’s IETF problem statement We Don’t Have To Do Fairness Ourselves which discusses the unfair use of TCP, a protocol designed to be fair. Briscoe says the IETF needs to:

. . . focus on giving principled and enforceable control to users and operators, so they can agree between themselves which fair use policy they want locally.

This is very different than giving the telcos a blank check to impose anything on a captive audience of Internet users. All our history with monopolies and duopolies tells us that without basic ground rules the telcos will ream the users.

The deep end
Then Mr. Downes goes off the deep end, positing that a complaint would force the FCC to open every affected packet on the network to determine if a telco were violating the law. This is silly.

It would be far easier to monitor a sample of disputed traffic as it is injected and measure its performance across the network. But how likely is a complaint if the telcos are prohibited from discriminatory treatment? Why would they develop the ability?

What is much more likely is that a telco whose unpopular policies have alienated the public would want government protection. Politicians would provide protection – for a price – such as ready access to the databases that store your surfing habits.

The StorageMojo take
Ultimately, net neutrality is a choice between private exploitation of network users by opaque, profit-driven companies or publicly debated ground rules that set minimum standards. The telcos and their claques whine about how hard all this is, but I’m confident the engineers can solve the problems.

Mr. Downes – like George Ou – doesn’t address the issue of fairness between users and providers. If Google is worried about getting reamed by telcos, why aren’t you?