Application Neutrality

Today is a pretty important day for the Internet. FCC Chairman Julius Geneachoski has asked for his organization to adopt rules to protect the open Internet. Net neutrality rules. The draft rules that Geneachoski is proposing have not been seen in public but I do believe something needs to be done. 

The reason why I believe this is pretty simple. Internet access has evolved to a duopoly in most markets. You have a choice of getting access from either your cable or telco provider. That's generally it. And the reason why is due to earlier decisions around "open access" that essentially stifled access provider competition. The arguments made then are essentially those being made by those opposing net neutrality today. Net neutrality will inhibit capital investment, deter innovation, and raise the duopolists operating costs which will in turn raise prices.

Hogwash. What it will do is protect the interests of the duopolists allowing them to limit competition and charge more for less service. Evidence of this can be seen in the market for Internet access itself. People in the United States pay much more on a megabit basis for Internet access than those in other countries. At the same time we have much slower access available by a factor of at least five.

A policy needs to be put in place that both encourages innovation for all companies regardless of their position of network ownership while at the same time encourages further investment in faster and more affordable Internet access. I believe it is possible to create such a policy and do so in a way that takes advantage of the architectural underpinnings of the Internet. But first a little background.

The architecture of the Internet was created back in the 1970s by DARPA. What DARPA created was a framework of computer network protocols called the TCP/IP model. The TCP/IP model is also known as the Internet Protocol Suite. Both of these models are comprised of four layers. The layers from top to bottom are referred to as application, transport, Internet, and link. The net neutrality issue that we are facing today essentially has to do with the changing nature of the application layer and how it effects those layers underneath it.

With that out of the way here is what I believe to be an obviously brilliant approach. In a paper entitled "Network Neutrality: What a Non-Discrimination Rule Should Look Like", Barbara Van Schewick director of The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School proposes that "legislators and regulators should enact a non-discrimination rule that bans all application-specific discrimination, but allows all application-agnostic discrimination." This approach would ban the practice of "like treatment" where network providers have to treat all traffic the same. It would enable network providers to treat classes at the application layer differently as long as they treat all the specific applications in the application class the same.

Bravo. This non-discrimination approach seems to be a smart way to continue the innovativeness that we are seeing from new companies at the application layer while protecting the interests of the more entrenched network providers and maintaining the integrity of the core architecture of the Internet.

I hope to see the FCC go down this path.

December 21, 2010  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Current Affairs, Internet, Politics