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January 19, 2007
Net neutrality--be careful what you wish for
The need for legislation insuring "network neutrality" has become an article of faith among many Internet fans, and they are finding a much more sympathetic ear in the new Democratic Congress. But in recent days, two titans of the Internet have warned that any effort to insure net neutrality be prohibiting network operators by charging for premium service could cripple the future of the Net.
In today's Washington Post (free registration required) David Farber of Carnegie Mellon University and Michael L. Katz of the University of California at Berkeley warn that "we should wait until there is a problem before rushing to enact solutions." They cite the danger that the sort of legislation being considered could make it impossible for network operators to manage traffic to give priority to the most valuable services, say real-time medical monitoring information.
Last week, in a lecture at the Computer History Museum (Windows video available) Robert Kahn, one of the original architects of the Internet, issued a similar warning. Net neutrality, he said, was "a slogan" and that premature legislation could cripple the sort of experimentation needed to build a better, faster, more reliable net for the future.
One oddity of the current fight is that many of the advocate of neutrality portray themselves as opponents of a corporate takeover of the democratic Internet. But the fight is being bankrolled by the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.com, big corporations if I've ever seen them. A lot of what;s going on is really a struggle for economic advantage between two groups of big companies, neither of which are much concerned about openess or democracy.
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"One oddity of the current fight is that many of the advocate of neutrality portray themselves as opponents of a corporate takeover of the democratic Internet. But the fight is being bankrolled by the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.com, big corporations if I've ever seen them. A lot of what;s going on is really a struggle for economic advantage between two groups of big companies, neither of which are much concerned about openess or democracy."
That's misleading. If Google, Amazon.com, or Microsoft's business models benefit from telecom blindness as regards type or origination of traffic, then so be it. The issue isn't how powerful or powerless, how benevolent or malign, are the voices in favor of net neutrality. As content providers, amazon/ms/google share an interest with other proponents of net neutrality in ensuring some safeguards to neutrality with regard to traffic.
Incidentally, it so happens the big telecoms *already* provide QOS/TOS guarantees to certain customers, for example, those who are VoIP clients run traffic on the AT&T network with guaranteed MOS scores of > 4. The Mean Opinion Score is essentially a reflection of jitter, packet loss, and delay in the network.No one wants to stand in the way of progress, and I agree that the Congress would be ill-advised to rush through any hastily written legislation. However, the "it ain't broke" philosophy to me seems naive. It's not as though concern for "net neutrality" appeared out of thin air. The instigator for all of this has been plans put forth by the telecoms for fairly unprecedented traffic prioritizing on their networks.
Posted by: isaac at January 19, 2007 05:27 PM
The Register posted a report on the January 8 talk yesterday, with very interesting quotes from Mr Kahn about Net Neutrality and the history of the internet.
Good reading if you care about the internet.
Posted by: pierre at January 20, 2007 06:32 PM
You can see the relevant portion of the lecture on YouTube
Posted by: NiceN3ss at January 24, 2007 01:16 PM