Am I the only one shaking my head at US Net Neutrality?

Internet Open Sign

I’ve always had the view that:

  1. ISPs receive a monthly payment for the speed of connection I have to the Internet
  2. Economics are such that I expect this to be effectively uncapped for almost all “normal” use, though the few edge cases of excessive use would be subject to a speed reduction to ration use of the resources for the good of the ISPs user base as a whole (to avoid a tragedy of the commons)
  3. That a proportion of my monthly costs would track investments needed to ensure peering equipment and the ISPs own infrastructure delivered service to me at the capacity needed to deliver (1) and (2) without any discrimination based on traffic nor its content.

Living in Europe, i’ve been listening to lots of commentary in the USA about both the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable on one hand, and of the various ebbs and flows surrounding “Net Neutrality” and the FCC on the other. It’s probably really surprising to know that broadband speeds in the USA are at best mid-table on the world stage, and that Comcast and Time Warner have some of the worst customer satisfaction scores in their respective service areas. There is also the spectacle of seeing the widespread funding of politicians there by industry, and the presence of a far from independent chairman of the FCC (the regulator) whose term is likely to be back through the revolving door to the very industry he currently is charged to regulate and from whence he came.

I’ve read “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” by Susan Crawford, which logged what happened as the Bell Telephone Monopoly was deregulated, and the result the US consumer was left with. Mindful of this, there was an excellent blog post that amply demonstrates what happens when the FCC lets go of the steering wheel, and refuses to classify Internet provision being subject to the “common carrier” status. Dancing around this serves no true political purpose, other than to encourage the receipt of Economic rent in ample excess to the cost of service provision in areas of mandated exclusivity of provision.

It appears that the 5 of the major “last mile” ISPs in the USA (there are 6 of them – while unnamed, folks on various forums suspect that Verizon are the only ones not cited) are not investing in equipment at their peering points, leading to an inference that they are double dipping. ie: asking the source of traffic (like Netflix, YouTube, etc) to pay transit costs to their customers for the “last mile”. Equipment costs that are reckoned to be marginal (fractions of a cent to each customer served) to correct. There is one European ISP implicated, though comments i’ve seen around the USA suggest this is most likely to be to Germany.

The blog post is by Mark Taylor, an executive of Level 3 (who provide a lot of the long distance bandwidth in the USA). Entitled “Observations of an Internet Middleman”, it is well worth a read here.

I just thank god we’re in Europe, where we have politicians like Neelie Kroes who works relentlessly, and effectively, to look after the interests of her constituents above all else. With that, a commitment to Net Neutrality, dropping roaming charges for mobile telcos, no software patents and pushing investments consistent with the long term interests of the population in the EC.

We do have our own challenges in the UK. Some organisations still profit handsomely from scientific research we pay for. We fund efforts by organisations to deliver hammer blows to frustrated consumers rather than encouraging producers to make their content accessible in a timely and cost effective fashion. And we have one of the worst cases of misdirected campaigns, with no factual basis and playing on media-fanned fear, to promote government mandated censorship (fascinating parallels to US history in “The Men who open your mail” here – it’ll take around 7 minutes to read). Horrific parallels to this, and conveniently avoiding the fact that wholesale games of “wac-a-mole” have demonstrably never worked.

That all said, our problems will probably trend to disappear, be it with the passing of the current government and longer term trends in media readership (the Internet native young rarely read Newspapers – largely a preserve of the nett expiring old).

While we have our own problems, I still don’t envy the scale of task ahead of consumers in the USA to unpick their current challenges with Internet access. I sincerely hope the right result makes it in the end.