Net Neutrality

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At the isoc-ny AGM on Feb 15 2007, Seth Johnson reported on the FTC "Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy" Workshop earlier in the week. He mentioned that there were two weeks left for public comment. It was decided that isoc-ny should issue a comment. Danny Younger and Joly MacFie were tasked with drafting such.

A comment, which can be read here was submitted on Feb 28.

The Issues (as Framed by the FTC)

Issues are raised by recent legal and regulatory

determinations that providers of certain broadband Internet services, such as cable modem and DSL, are not subject to the Federal Communications Commission’s common-carrier regulations. In the absence of such regulations, some have raised concerns about broadband Internet service providers discriminating against, degrading, or blocking users’ access to unaffiliated content and applications. In addition, concerns have been raised regarding ISPs and other network operators charging providers of unaffiliated content and applications fees for prioritized delivery of their products to end users. To prevent harm to competition and consumers from these and other related types of conduct, some have advocated network neutrality regulation that would require equal treatment of

all Internet traffic.
In response, opponents of network neutrality have argued that

such regulation would have adverse consequences for innovation and competition in the market for broadband access by, among other things, making it more difficult for ISPs and other network operators to recoup their investments in broadband networks. Opponents also have argued that such regulation is unnecessary because: 1) to date there is insufficient evidence of harm to competition or consumers to warrant such regulation; 2) competitive conditions in the market for broadband access will protect consumers from the harm anticipated by net neutrality proponents; and 3) the antitrust and consumer protection laws, as well as FCC oversight, are

sufficient to address any harms that may arise.

FTC Workshop Transcript & notes

Feb 13

  1. Opening Remarks
  2. Technical Background Panel
  3. What Is The Debate Over "Network Neutrality" About?
  4. Remarks By Commissioner Leibowitz
  5. Discrimination, Blockage, and Vertical Integration Panel
  6. Quality of Service, Tiering, and Charging Fees for Prioritized Delivery

Feb 14

  1. Current and Future State of Broadband Competition Panel
  2. Consumer Protection Issues Panel
  3. What Framework Best Promotes Competition and Consumer Welfare/Industry Reviews Panel
  4. What Framework Best Promotes Competition and Consumer Welfare/Academic and Policy Panel

Taken from the webcast

Comments to the workshop

Taken from here.

  • Bill D. Herman - Opening Bottlenecks: On Behalf of Mandated Network Neutrality pdfhtml
  • Rebecca Schwartz - Telecommunications Industry Association comments pdfhtml
  • Jon Peha of Carnegie Mellon argues for a balanced approach [1]pdf
    Abstract: A fundamental issue in the network neutrality debate is the extent to which network operators should be allowed to discriminate among Internet packet streams to selectively block, adjust quality of service, or adjust prices. This paper first reviews technology now available for traffic discrimination. It then shows how network operators can use this technology in ways that would make the Internet less valuable to Internet users, and why a network operator would have financial incentive to do this if and only if it has sufficient market power. A particular concern is that network operators could use discrimination to extract oligopoly rents from upstream markets that are highly competitive. This paper also shows how network operators can use the very same technology to discriminate in ways that benefit Internet users, as well as the network operator. Thus, network neutrality supporters are right to fear unlimited discrimination in some cases, while network neutrality opponents are right to fear a policy that imposes strict limits on discrimination. From this, we argue that the network neutrality debate should be refocused on the search for a balanced policy, which is a policy that limits the more harmful discriminatory practices in markets where there is insufficient competition, with little interference to beneficial discrimination or innovation. We apply this balanced policy in a few controversial scenarios as examples. There has been too little attention on the possibility of a nuanced balanced policy, in part because the network neutrality debate is focusing on the wrong issues. This paper argues that the debate should shift towards the complex details of differentiating harmful discrimination from beneficial discrimination, and away from high-level secondary questions like whether discrimination is inherently just, who ought to pay for certain Internet services, how important general design principles are, what abstract rights and freedoms consumers and carriers deserve, or whether network operators can give their affiliates special treatment. Reality is more complex than these questions would imply, and none of them will serve as a basis for a sufficiently specific and effective policy.
  • R. Bancroft suggests the FTC encourage voluntary disclosure of the existing packet management practices on a residential user's high-speed Internet access pdfhtml
  • Jay Sulzberger on 'the importance of distinguishing the Net from cable TV, and from lower level signal transport systems'. pdfhtml

Comments on the workshop

Seth's points

Seth points out the following key points that the Internet Society of New York (and the Internet Society in general) can make as critical stewards of the Internet standards-making process:

  • That the bodies that oversee the processes of Internet standards-making have not been given appropriate participation in the discussion
  • That the very process of Internet standards-making is at risk in the "network neutrality" debate, because the flexiiblity of the Internet transport and the diversity of applications that are made possible by it may very easily be affected by practices that would affect the transport
  • That the advantages of the existing protocols -- in particular the application flexibility of the Internet Protocol -- have not been acknowledged adequately in the debate
  • That in order to address policy questions related to "network neutrality" a distinction needs to be drawn between the nature and advantages of existing protocols and practices, and various practices that are being proposed

(I'll add more points as I think of them. As I think ISOC likely can see very well, it is eminently possible to issue a highly important statement that can focus on technical issues like the above, without necessarily moving to a place that is more polemical. The above points are chiefly about the responsibility that the Internet Society holds for assuring the integrity of standards. -- Seth)

ISOC policy statement

This policy statement needs to be strengthened:

The second definition listed at the top of the page needs updating; it reflects one way the issue was presented early on. There's a difference between treating similar applications alike, and supporting diverse applications by the design of the transport. Treating similar applications alike just as well would tend to make the Internet platform no longer flexible and generic, an actual medium for diverse applications. This is the difference between the transport and the applications above.

The wikipedia pages make this point.

ISOC NY can clarify this with your statement to the FTC, and this is a key insight you would bring to the FTC, who can't see the issue correctly yet. Remember that flexibility is the key, and we wouldn't have any reason to worry about the future of the standards or the flexibility of the Internet -- or even have any debate over "net neutrality" -- if the incumbents hadn't expressed an intention to use their position to establish practices that would make the transport non-generic.


"Established in 1997, Cybertelecom is an educational non profit dedicated to raising awareness of and promoting participation in federal initiatives that impact the Internet."

The first link below is the most comprehensive overview on the subject I have found.



Save the Internet!

Humanity Lobotomy - Second Draft

Sen. Ted Kennedy supports Net Neutrality