Net Neutrality: An Expanded Definition And What I Want

by Randy Murray on January 19, 2011

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing about Net Neutrality. I think that it’s not only an important topic; I think it may be THE key to the future of the internet.

From my perspective net neutrality can be boiled down to this: will we allow telecommunication carriers to restrict what we can access on the internet? It’s that simple. Some put it as a matter of content, an issue of freedom of speech and the press, but I think that misses what the carriers really want to do.

They could promise not to restrict content per se, but still divide up internet traffic by type of site or service and charge consumers for each type separately. This approach destroys innovation by raising real barriers to businesses that may wish to compete in areas that the carriers identify as their exclusive hunting grounds. No more Googles, no more Facebooks.  The carriers would never let little companies emerge. Startups could never pay the tolls that the carriers will want to collect to allow access to THEIR customers. Emerging businesses would never get equal access to consumers. “Managed” networks are anti-competitive by their very nature. If the carriers get their way, the open internet may still exist, but it will be throttled, strangled, and artificially bogged down in favor of the packaged offerings of favored (i.e., fee-paid) client sites that the carrier holding you hostage wants you to have.

Net neutrality, what I’m advocating, is the stand that says, “data is data, and it’s all just data.” We who want this want no restrictions or distinctions in the kinds of data or service or content that we can access. That includes not giving priority to services that pay a toll or that carriers directly own or favor (priority from a carrier perspective probably doesn’t mean speeding anything up. More likely, it simply will be slowing down whatever else they want to). Carriers want to “manage” their network as the FCC now says they can, after much lobbying, but not as a comprehensive optimization strategy. They want to create artificial differences that could force service providers, like Google or Netflix, OR consumers, like you and me, to pay special fees to receive what we already have today: open and equal access to anything connected to the net.

The carriers see this as a profit opportunity. They can “bundle” services. But “bundle,” to a carrier, is a truly Orwellian term. To them it means taking the entirety of data—which is all of, and the only thing, on the internet—and splitting it into different categories of data, which they can then charge different rates and fees for. To create a bundle, they first break apart the whole, and then stitch it partially back together, and charge you differentially for it.

To your computer, data is data. It’s all the same. Voice is just data moving over the internet, video and email are data in the same way. On the internet, it’s all just IP traffic whether you connect to a phone number, url, or video source (IP in this case stands for Internet Protocol, not Intellectual Property). It’s all just bits. The carriers want to force a distinction between different data categories, break it apart, and then sell it back to us in pieces.

The phone carriers, for example, are trying desperately to hang onto the idea that there’s such a thing as a “voice only” network. But the internet is superseding any special-purpose network. These carriers are fighting a last ditch effort to try and maintain the fiction that all of these data services need to be separate and require special, costly management.  They did, once; they don’t now.

By trying to control the internet, to lock customers into bundles of services, some of which they don’t want or need, they’re losing out on what I believe is a potentially very profitable business: supplying bandwidth. But to get to this potential profit, they have to accept that all we really want or need from them is just that: bandwidth. Carriers can compete with each other on the basis of coverage (just home, home and some region beyond through mobile connectivity, everywhere, etc.), quality of service, and speed. And they’d have to compete, because no individual company could hold us hostage.

For me, unlimited bandwidth is useless without unlimited access to the internet, both to the content I want and to the service providers I choose to work with; and not just to sites on the internet, but to providers of voice (data bits) and video (more data bits) and other services. No restrictions, no limits. Each internet carrier can then concentrate on offering high quality service at the lowest rates and content providers and individual sites can worry about providing content and services.

That’s what I want, and I’m willing to pay for it. I’d prefer to write one big check to someone every month that pays only for access to bandwidth, and stop paying that same bandwidth provider differentially for separate data services.

Today I pay one carrier for home internet service, phone, and TV. I also write out another substantial check for mobile phone service, which includes separate services (from their perspective) for internet access, and so help me, SMS or texting services. By my count, I pay for internet access six times: (home internet access, plus five users on my mobile account), then repay for that service an additional eight more times (five iPhone voice plans, a texting plan to cover all, home phone, and TV).

I just want to pay for bandwidth: access to all the bandwidth I need, all the time. And I’m willing to pay well for it (and with what I’m paying now, combined, there’s plenty of room for an innovative carrier to collect a substantial payment from me). If I want any specific services, like TV shows or movies, I’ll pay for them, but I get to choose who I buy these services from.

And here’s another big change: I’ll buy my own devices and gadgets. Don’t try and sell me a subsidized Smartphone or DVR or wireless hotspot. If I want one, I’ll buy it myself. All I want from a carrier is bandwidth and a way to get to it both home and away.

I’d prefer a service that offered me, as an individual, unlimited and superfast access. And I’d love special pricing to include the entire family. And I accept that business needs are different from consumer needs and, as a business user, I’m willing to pay for that.

How much data should “unlimited” be for a consumer? Here’s a simple measure that the carriers can use—so build your networks accordingly: enough bandwidth for me to stream a half dozen simultaneous true 1080p high definition movies twenty-four hours a day, every day, at full, no-delay speeds. I’m not going to use anywhere near as much as that, but that amount would allow me to take advantage of current and future services–and that means I’ll spend money with businesses that innovate. If you want to sell me TV shows, movies, or other services, get out there and innovate, offer me something interesting, in content, method of provision, or any other way, and I’m likely to pay you for it—unless someone else offers me a better deal.

From you, carriers, I just want bandwidth, access. Get over it: you’re a utility.

For the carrier that offers me this, you get all of my business, not split up between phone, cable, internet, and mobile companies. And you don’t have to absorb the price of the phone or device. You just focus, always and only, on reliable service.

There might be some level of metered service I’d be OK with, but unlimited usage prompts me to get out there and really USE the service. You, carriers, are confusing people when you entice them with the illusion of a wide open net, but then strangle them with usage caps and exorbitant fees. Yes, some of us are going to be extreme users, but many, most, if I read things right, will use very little.

I want a truly neutral net. And I can only have that if we can stop the companies that are trying to strangle access and squeeze profits out of consumers without getting out there and competing on the wide open net. I’ll happily pay for innovative services. But I bridle at service and fees that are forced on me as a part of the toll of gaining internet access.

 
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The Net Neutrality: An Expanded Definition And What I Want by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dennis Garlington January 19, 2011 at 9:07 am

Dear You, who writes for Me,

You have written not one word wrong, but I would ask you to consider….

Breaking the Internet into tiers enables a second revenue stream for the provider — revenue from the website author. The provider can, at its sole discretion, force a website’s author to pay for access to the reader.

And this tricky bit of policy manipulation turns providers into publishers, meaning there’s a possibility that first amendment rights could be granted to AT&T, Verizon, Time-Warner and all the others. This might be extended to the audio, video and downloads, as well as the written word.

So, providers are trying to win three things. They want two ways to make money, they want the right to control and profit from an infinite number of special interest tiers (think ‘e-zines’) and they want to be immunized from content lawsuits.

I call it “The Chinese Internet Model”.

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Randy Murray January 19, 2011 at 9:15 am

You’e opened another can of worms, but it may get closer to the heart of the issue: is there a conflict between freedom of speech and freedom of the press when we’re talking about the internet?

First, I reject that companies are people or individuals, and therefore, they have no freedom of speech rights. Only people have freedom of speech (I know I have a difference of opinion with the Supreme Court, but I think they’ll come around on that eventually).

So can a telecommunications carrier be considered “the press?”. I don’t think so. They can own a press, but that does not give them the right to restrict the free speech rights of others.

Messy, no?

Thanks for joining the conversation!

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Ian January 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Nice post. I’ve been thinking about ubiquitous Internet access and imagine it to be so in the future. A person or entity would buy data plans that is accessible through all kinds of gateways. IPv6 addresses would be ordered as needed or desired through the plan. The user would log-in to his data plan account and assigned an one of a kind device identity code such as MAC addresses or the IMEI of a cell phone or a SIM registration number to an IPv6 address. IPv6 addresses would also be assigned services or priorities where perhaps e-mail and communications go to certain devices while video or other forms of entertainment to others. If one device is not logged in then another takes over or takes precedent.

Just like cell phones today can roam from provider to provider, the internet user of tomorrow will be also be able to roam from gateway to gateway knowing that his plan would just work. The access gateways of tomorrow will be run by all kinds of entities. The local co-op, school or university, local utilities public and private funded by taxes and maintance fees from the data plans mentioned above . But for “access for all” that is where net neutrality is going to have to play a hand seperating access gateways (bandwidth and speed) from data plans (usage). Wireless IP-traffic is going to transmit everything freeing the airways from radio and television transmissions which is time based and inconvenient and letting those frequencies deliver to us content on demand (including radio and TV data) by offering bandwidth and speed to all.

Ian

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