Network Neutrality

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What position do you advocate?

  • By COB Sunday, flesh out the arguments here. Respond to the arguments other parties make.


Prioritization. Huge investments in network infrastructure. Because bandwidth is expensive, we need to prioritize, and we want to charge content providers for priority. Disney should pay us if they want to reach our customers faster. The basic premise is that every bit of internet traffic costs money and somebody should pay for it. We have three parties here; contents providers, contents consumers and network operators. Basically, consumers and contents providers get their economic surplus as the traffic increases while network operator gets nothing but a flat rate. BT is not a nation owned company any more - BT has its shareholders to serve and employees who rely on the revenue from the network service. Operators could not put up with the situation that the operators of the Internet is the biggest victim in the new economy - actually the Internet economy. The solution would be in metering of upward traffic for every consumers and contents providers. BT does not want to invest more on the infrastructure to convey meaningless ad banners that is more and more traffic consuming and voice traffics that cannibalise our own revenue of telephone.

Disney's proposal of two tier internet is interesting though. As Clark, one of authors of 'end-to-end argument', is working on the Internet2 (see,258,p1.html), let's see what he would come up with.

Facing competition, don't want to cut Google off (and make consumers flee). Squeeze the mid-sized guys.

Network Neutrality, BT


We're big enough to cut a deal with the ISPs. Besides, we provide exceptional content which our customers should be able to enjoy without any type of streaming issues. We would welcome a structure where-by we could ensure that our customers' desire for high quality content is fulfilled.

Our proposal is that that the ISPs begin a two-tiered system where the quality content providers (companies like ourselves) pay for a certain amount of guaranteed bandwidth and what is left over goes to the other providers. This would mean that those other providers would be limited in the quality (bit rate) by which they can stream data.

By limiting the quality of the 'second tier' providers, the levels of content copyright infringement should decline as customers will only have one location visit to watch their desired content at a high enough quality level. This will protect our future revenues and ensure that we have the financial capability to continue making high quality content.

The only risk we see in this strategy is around future demand for entertainment produced by traditional media companies. We come from a tradition of creating content ourselves that audiences know, enjoy and trust. New media competitors offer users control over content generation, which leads to good and bad content. If we squeeze the availability of bandwidth for amateur user-generated rivals, we will hopefully drive demand back towards our own professional content. But this could backfire. We should think creatively around how we can incorporate user-generated content into our products. Owning a large piece of the distribution pipes will put us in a good bargaining position if we decide that we need to acquire or partner with a user-generated company to create hybrid content in the future.


We speak for the users and their freedom. If we can't get neutral net from BT, we'll build our own, because we rely on user content.

Moral/Ethical Argument:

The argument ISPs are making about lack revenue source from new internet traffic is shorttermism at its best! ISPs fail to understand that the more content user is accessing the more value she is extracting out of internet and when the value proposition becomes compelling even marginal users will also become a consumer. In other words; ISPs are thinking of revenue from net as a fixed size pie whereas in reality the size of the pie increases as more quality contents come online. To cite how equal access content may increase the revenue source; consider the case of IPTV. The current infrastructure of internet does not scale up to deliver jitter-free interactive TV services over the net. Youtube came up with the alternative model of internet TV that offers unparallel interactivity no TV channel can even dream of matching. This had two effects on the revenue of ISPs over internet. Consumers who stayed out of internet because they could not find streaming entertainment source joined the ISP to access Youtube. This in effect reduced the customer acquisition cost for these marginal consumers to zero. Moreover, this also allowed consumer to see the benefit a scalable IPTV infrastructure can provide to them and thus creating implicit demand and consumer awareness for IPTV. For a mass market oriented product like IPTV; awareness generation could have been a costly expenditure that ISPs sidestepped. Economically, existing customer base of ISPs actually subsidized the customer acquisition cost for marginal customers and consumer awareness creation cost for IPTV.

Net neutrality is the oxygen of the internet (and hence should not be taxed under any regime). It allows content creator to differentiate themselves through the quality of the content and content consumer to choose among the available content and get the best deal. The pressure from the user forces content creator to create even better content to get the share of eyeballs. This virtuous cycle of continuous improvement is leading internet to become the most attractive media for consumer to spend time on. Content creators congregate believing the only competitive advantage is through content quality and hence deploy available resource towards it. Content consumers also know that they can get the best deal out of internet and hence they become loyal consumers. Any non-net neutral stance will add another dimension to the competitive scenario. We are likely to see a massive reduction in the quality of the content as content creators are forced to divert resource towards access issue of competitive imperative. Thus quality of the content will go down and consumers will be less willing to come to internet. This in effect will reduce the consumer base for ISPs which will be detrimental to the bottom line.

Google as company believes on net neutrality because of strategic reasons. Google is a platform and gateway to content creators. The value of Google lies in the value of underlying quality of content. In other words, when a content creator spends $1 on improving the content it is actually making Google 1 cent more valuable (numbers mentioned here are for illustration purpose and does not have any economic data backing). A non-neutral net creates two problems for Google:

1. As another dimension is added to the competitive environment; spending on content quality reduces and hence overall value Google reduces.

2. A non-neutral net that has gone to a great extent can make search engine redundant as there will be only a few sources from which user can get information. Thus the business model for Google and other search engine completely breaks down.

Thus we have seen a non-neutral net benefits no one: o It does not benefit ISPs as customer base diminishes. o It does not benefit content creators as the dimension of competitiveness changes completely requiring major strategic and organization reengineering. o It does not benefit startups as the monopolies stifle competition by denying access to information highway.


[The entrepreneurs were omitted from the table/group assignments. A metaphor for the way they're often left out of the policy debate? ]

Think about the kinds of entry barriers that various network rules would impose.


Internet is a utility, but bureaucrats aren't always good at regulating utilities. We'll think about it, form a committee and come back in 5 years. (BT sets its lobbyists to work.)

Public interest consumer group

The Internet is a utility. We don't allow Dyson to pay for priority electricity, we shouldn't allow Disney to pay for priority Internet.

Where do government subsidies fit into the picture?

-- Response 1:

Is there really a public interest in "network neutrality", or is it that the public interest lies merely on the non-prioritization of Internet bandwidth according to private interests?

But there is no difference between the former and the latter! - one would say. The non-prioritization of bandwidth IS network neutrality. Though, it could also be said that a neutral network is so much more than that...

I need to stake two ideas out before making my point. I will do this by raising some questions.

First, what do we mean by "the network"? Which layer are we focusing on? Is it merely the stupid, narrow part of the hourglass architecture - the internet protocols which were designed to preserve the end-to-end principle? Does it also involve the code and content, on the one hand, and wires, routers, spectrum etc., on the other, which are built on the top and bellow those protocols, respectively?

Second, if the Internet involves all these dimensions, can/should we be neutral in only one of them? If we say that law must enforce equal and unrestrained opportunities for information flow at the protocol layer, don't we risk having an unequal and restrictive concentration of communicative power in the content layer? Let us have in mind the excessive concentration of power by Google, which exerts an increasingly strong influence on the way information flows in the net. If some day we need to limit the way this happens, if we need to limit this excess of power, can we do so by intervening only in the content layer, or safeguards of some sort would also need to be embedded in the infra-structure itself? Besides, if we advocate neutrality at the protocols level, if we ensure the non-discrimination of information according to its sources, don't we also risk having some very harmful content unfiltered? Think of a terrorist organization, like, say, Al Qaeda - can't/shouldn't we stop content of this sort from flowing around?

From these questions we may perhaps conclude that neutrality in one of the layers, if achievable, could carry out a noxious and uncontrollable lack of neutrality in other layers. This may prompt converse and non-neutral policies, like, for instance, enforcing the use of authentication and identification technologies allied to prohibitions of routing harmful content, and badware around. Will we have a neutral internet if content of this sort cannot be put through?

In this sense, does StopBadware further a neutral Internet, or does it make/incentive choices on the flow of information according to its sources?

In sum, if what happens in one of the layers influences what happens in the others - if the Internet is all these layers, to ensure a really neutral network, we must ensure neutrality in all of the layers.

Being neutral, for political philosophy, means not to further a particular conception of the good; means not to make evaluative choices. A neutral Internet, then, is one in which no choices are made. But isn't the end-to-end principle, in itself, a choice?

Of the many definitions of "the Internet", the one that I like the most is that given by Searls and Weinberger in their "World of Ends". There, they say: "The Internet isn't a thing. It's an agreement".

There is no agreement without choice. And, IMHO, there is not such a thing as a neutral inter-network.

Trying to enforce one in the narrow, stupid layer of the protocols, may hinder the control of what happens in the other layers – may hamper consumer protection, may hamper generativity, may hamper... the public interest?

Are Google and the Public Interest really so interwined?

Big picture

Is this "rough consensus" or negotiation among established players?