Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Newmark vs. McCurry on net neutrality

Craig Newmark of Craigslist and Mike McCurry of "Hands Off the Internet" debate "Should the Net Be Neutral?" at the Wall Street Journal. I'm struck by a number of things that Newmark says:
Do you believe Yahoo should be allowed to outbid Google to slow down Google on people's computers? That's the kind of thing that the big guys are proposing.
In fact, nobody has proposed slowing down anything--the consumer broadband telcos have proposed adding new, higher-bandwidth physical circuits (fiber to the home) which contain virtual circuits dedicated to content with requirements for higher bandwidth and low latency and jitter, for which the primary application they have in mind is IP television. And they want to charge content providers to use those virtual circuits. Now, one can argue that dedicating bandwidth to new applications that content providers have to pay for will have a future consequence that Internet bandwidth will be consumed and not upgraded, leading to degradation for best-effort Internet services, but that requires argument to support the likelihood of that outcome in the face of competition from cable companies and wireless providers.
With all that empty fiber, bandwidth is not an issue. A bigger issue is that we're running out of [Internet protocol] addresses. The new net protocols, IPv6, address that, but the big telecoms are already very late implementing that. (Hey, I'm an engineer, and their engineers talk to me.)
Newmark is confusing Internet backbone bandwidth with last-mile consumer broadband bandwidth. I've addressed this confusion at length. BTW, IPv6 is rife with difficulties and not quite ready (or useful) for the average consumer, but my employer, Global Crossing, has been one of the first to make it widely available to its customers. (I run IPv6 on my home network via a tunnel to Global Crossing.)
No one's talking about "government lawyers and regulators engineer[ing] the future of the Internet," except, well, you, Mike. We're trying to prevent that, and trying to get Congress to maintain the level playing field we have right now, that the FCC just tried to ruin. We're just asking everyone to play fair.
I'm being completely straight: no one's interested in regulation in the sense you're thinking, we just want the existing level playing field to continue… Beyond that, we're not interested in mandating performance criteria, none of that stuff.
What we're looking for is just fairness, a level playing field, no regulation or stuff like that. In America we believe that if you play fair and work hard, you get ahead. We don't want the government to give special privileges to the big guys, particularly not at the expense of small business and consumers. We don't want more regulation and we don't need lawyers involved where the free market functions well. I guess we're for capitalism.
Here, Newmark is simply failing to recognize what's in the actual network neutrality bills in Congress, which have unintended consequences about how networks are engineered, what can be in acceptable use policies, what kinds of contracts network providers are permitted to enter into with their customers, and how they can charge for access to different services--rules that to date have not existed for Internet services.

Today, many Internet providers have acceptable use policies that prohibit spam, going beyond the requirements of the relatively weak federal CAN-SPAM law. Under all of the net neutrality bills I've seen, providers must permit customers to send or receive any "lawful content," which forces them to reduce their AUPs to the lowest common denominator of whatever is prohibited by law in the jurisdictions where they provide service. These bills prohibit providers in the United States from setting the conditions of contract with their customers regarding activities they consider abusive which are not codified in law. The "pink contract" would thus become a government mandate.

UPDATE: FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas back up McCurry's statement in this debate that the FCC already has authority under Title I to prevent anti-competitive discrimination without the need for new statutory powers from Congress.

McCurry at the WSJ:
And doesn't the FCC have authority already (under Title I) to step in and act if necessary?
The Federal Communications Commission has authority under current law to ensure that broadband-access providers -- currently mainly cable and phone companies -- do not discriminate against Web-based providers of content, search services and applications, FCC commissioner Michael Copps said Tuesday.
“The [FCC] remains free to impose special regulatory duties on facilities-based [Internet-service providers] under its Title I ancillary jurisdiction,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services.
This means net neutrality advocates who support the bills in Congress don't think this is enough, and owe an explanation of specifically what powers they want to add to the FCC, what rules they want the FCC to make, and how those rules will be enforced.

1 comment:

Harold Feld said...

Certainly the FCC has authority at the moment to protect network neutrality pursuant to it Title I Ancillary jurisdiction. The problem with COPE and the Stevens Bill is that they either limit this authority or eliminate it altogether. By contrast, the Markey and Snowe-Dorgan bills would make limited regulation mandatory in the same way as if the Supreme Court had ruled in Brand X that broadband was a Title II telecom service (as per the Scalia dissent).

It is unfortunate that this factual background is so confusing. It leads to the absurd results that Barton maintains his bill "protects network neutrality" and is supported by the telcos, who say they oppose net neutrality.

My lengthier discussion of background is in my own Network Neutrality primer at