Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Geddes on net neutrality

Martin Geddes has a nice commentary on the vagueness of "net neutrality" and its implications (I previously commented on the subject here). He divides net neutrality advocates into bottoms, middles, and tops (based on layers, not giving vs. receiving). "Bottomistas" want neutrality on offered underlying protocols and aren't happy just getting IPv4 (or just IPv6), and at the extreme would want a choice between ATM, Ethernet, their own Layer 2 protocol. The "middlemen" distinguish "raw IP" (which backbones carry, or perhaps which ISPs use internally) from "retail IP" (what the end user customer gets), and endorse neutrality on the latter. The "top" are comfortable with the kind of filtering done by many retail ISPs (e.g., port 25 filtering), but oppose filtering directed at particular service providers or applications.

Geddes argues that the Internet isn't really a thing, but a set of agreements between different entities that are each doing their own thing with their own property--and that "Internet Governance" itself doesn't make much sense outside of IP address allocation and routing.

He raises a host of interesting questions, like:
Is neutrality a wholesale or a retail problem? What if the access infrastructure owner offers “neutral” IP connectivity, but no retail provider chooses to pass that on directly to the public without layering on some filtering and price discrimination?
Oh, and what’s so special about the Internet? Do other IP-based networks need neutrality principles? Do any networks? Should more network industries be forced to forego “winner takes all” rewards? Google looks awfully dominant at adverts, doesn’t it… I wonder if that ad network needs a bit of “neutrality”?
These are the sorts of issues that need to be considered in formulating any kind of "net neutrality" that can actually be put into a statute or regulatory framework, and it doesn't seem likely to me that it will be easy to come up with one that has broad appeal and doesn't trample on private contract and property rights. I think Geddes may be right when he says neutrality is "an output, not an input."

His post is well worth reading, as is the commentary from Brett Watson.

UPDATE: Geddes has more at Telepocalypse.

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