Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Will neutrality lead to mediocrity?

Working in a carrier environment helps identify the challenges of business-grade requirements for service delivery. While the needs of the corporate world are somewhat irrelevant to some, for the sake of argument, accept that agencies and departments within the government might be among those corporate clients.

Let's assume that there are some employees who want or need to work from a remote location, like home, or from vacation. I would suspect that there are a number of corporate applications that these people might need to access that might require priority treatment over the kids' gaming or music - either in the same location or on the same router at the ISP. Maybe it is a videoconference link or even a secured enhanced IM link. Maybe a mobile health care kiosk.

How does the industry provide network quality assurance for these applications in a 'neutral' network?

Is there ever a situation that might permit discrimination - let's actually call it differentiation - between the various bit streams? Is it unreasonable to permit ISPs and their clients the flexibility to develop creative business relationships which enable such services?

Let me lay on a more consumer-oriented example. I just upgraded to the latest version of Joost. The software warns people:
Joost is a streaming video application, and so uses a relatively high amount of bandwidth per hour. In 1 hour of viewing, 320 Mb will be downloaded and 105 Mb uploaded, which means that a 1 Gb cap will be exhausted in about 10 hours.

If you pay for your bandwidth usage per megabyte or have your usage capped by your ISP, you should be careful to always exit the Joost program completely when you are finished watching it.
What if pay-for-use pricing or usage caps become a constraint for Joost or another application like it? Would it be OK for the application developer to enter into advertising or other agreements that enable it to pay for excess usage on behalf of its clients? Think of it as being analogous to toll-free calling, where the charges are reversed.

Notably, Tim Wu describes net neutrality as a network design principle, rather than a rigid requirement.
The internet isn't perfect but it aspires for neutrality in its original design. Its decentralized and mostly neutral nature may account for its success as an economic engine and a source of folk culture.
It is important to note his selection of terms such as 'mostly neutral' in recognition that the internet has not been bound by a fixed regulatory (or network design) framework. Is it possible that part of the internet's success as an economic engine is the variability enabled by its original design - the inter-networking of the internet?

Can the existing undue discrimination provisions of Canada's Telecom Act provide sufficient protection to permit the continued evolution of flexible internet business models?

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