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I’ve written quite a bit about net neutrality over the last couple of months. I’ve learned a lot about the issue while reading and writing about it. I’ve gotten a few things right, and a couple wrong, but hopefully I’ve at least highlighted the importance of the issue. This evening I was reading a few of the blogs I regularly read when I came across a post by Brad Burnham from Union Square Ventures that talks specifically about the changes the FCC will take up on December 21. The crux of Brad’s proposal is based on language suggested by Barbara van Schewick, a professor at the Stanford Law School:


A non-discrimination rule that bans all application-specific discrimination (i.e. discrimination based on applications or classes of applications), but allows application-agnostic discrimination.

The great thing about this approach is that it seems to answer the big objection of the ISPs to any net neutrality rule. ISPs can still regulate bandwidth to protect the health of their infrastructure. They can still throttle networks to handle demand, and they can still charge more for faster/better service. But they can not discriminate based on the application or type of application. In other words, an ISP could not slow only video traffic or any iTunes traffic. This should – and I emphasize “should” – prevent ISPs from stifling start ups and new innovation.

I encourage you to read Brad’s post in it’s entirety here. You can also see a video of Barbara van Schewick talking about net neutrality here. (warning: it’s almost 2 hours long). I would love to hear other thoughts on this proposed idea. It makes a lot of sense to me, but, like any proposed rules, there are sure to unintended consequences that I’m not seeing.

Good Talk,
Tom

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Until 2005 the United States imposed rules on common carriers (legacy telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon) requiring them to sell bandwidth on their networks to other ISPs at discount prices. The idea was basically that the best way to ensure competition in the ISP space was to make incumbents sell their bandwidth to other ISPs at wholesale prices. This would allow the Earthlinks of the world to compete and, hopefully, create an environment where increased competition leads to lower prices and better service for the consumer. However, in 2005, the telecom companies successfully lobbied the FCC to change the rules.

The carriers argued that the rules unfairly penalized them simply because of the delivery mechanism they used. AT&T and Verizon delivered data services over old telephone wires. Because, as telephone companies, they were designated common carriers, the rules were different. Comcast, on the other hand, delivered data services over coaxial cable and was not subject to the FCC’s rule about wholesaling bandwidth. In 2005, the SEC agreed with the legacy carriers and dropped the rule requiring discounted prices.  Some say this decision by the FCC provided a rallying point for the net neutrality movement.

Other countries such as South Korea and Japan have largely maintained similar bandwidth sharing rules to the pre-2005 rules in the United States. One can question whether this is the reason some of these countries have much wider broadband adoption, much faster broadband speeds, and much lower prices. Should the FCC have maintained the pre-2005 rules? Did the rule change spark the call for net neutrality? Should Comcast be regulated as a common carrier? All questions worth exploring.

Good Talk,
Tom

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