The End of Net Neutrality?

In what may be the final round of comments in the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality inquiry, I offered some closing thoughts, including:

  • Does the U.S. really rank 15th — or even 26th — in the world in broadband? No.
  • The U.S. generates and consumes substantially more IP traffic per Internet user and per capita than any other region of the world.
  • Among individual nations, only South Korea generates significantly more IP traffic than the U.S. (Canada and the U.S. are equal.)
  • U.S. wired and wireless broadband networks are among the world’s most advanced, and the U.S. Internet ecosystem is healthy and vibrant.
  • Latency is increasingly important, as demonstrated by a young company called Spread Networks, which built a new optical fiber route from Chicago to New York to shave mere milliseconds off the existing fastest network offerings. This example shows the importance — and legitimacy — of “paid prioritization.”
  • As we wrote: “One way to achieve better service is to deploy more capacity on certain links. But capacity is not always the problem. As Spread shows, another way to achieve better service is to build an entirely new 750-mile fiber route through mountains to minimize laser light delay. Or we might deploy a network of server caches that store non-realtime data closer to the end points of networks, as many Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) have done. But when we can’t build a new fiber route or store data — say, when we need to get real-time packets from point to pointover the existing network — yet another option might be to route packets more efficiently with sophisticated QoS technologies.”
  • Exempting “wireless” from any Net Neutrality rules is necessary but not sufficient to protect robust service and innovation in the wireless arena.
  • “The number of Wi-Fi and femtocell nodes will only continue to grow. It is important that they do, so that we might offload a substantial portion of traffic from our mobile cell sites and thus improve service for users in mobile environments. We will expect our wireless devices to achieve nearly the robustness and capacity of our wired devices. But for this to happen, our wireless and wired networks will often have to be integrated and optimized. Wireline backhaul — whether from the cell site or via a residential or office broadband connection — may require special prioritization to offset the inherent deficiencies of wireless. Already, wireline broadband companies are prioritizing femtocell traffic, and such practices will only grow. If such wireline prioritization is restricted, crucial new wireless connectivity and services could falter or slow.”
  • The same goes for “specialized services,” which some suggest be exempted from new Net Neutrality regulations. Again, necessary but not sufficient.
  • “Regulating the ‘basic’ Internet but not ‘specialized’ services will surely push most of the network and application innovation and investment into the unregulated sphere. A ‘specialized’ exemption, although far preferable to a Net Neutrality world without such an exemption, would tend to incentivize both CAS providers and ISPs service providers to target the ‘specialized’ category and thus shrink the scope of the ‘open Internet.’ In fact, although specialized services should and will exist, they often will interact with or be based on the ‘basic’ Internet. Finding demarcation lines will be difficult if not impossible. In a world of vast overlap, convergence, integration, and modularity, attempting to decide what is and is not ‘the Internet’ is probably futile and counterproductive. The very genius of the Internet is its ability to connect to, absorb, accommodate, and spawn new networks, applications and services. In a great compliment to its virtues, the definition of the Internet is constantly changing.”

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