Martin Geddes edits Telepocalypse, a telecomm blog.
The title of my talk is Neutrality Schmootality
I strongly believe that within the current framework of how we fund and build networks it is an error, one that takes you further from freedom to connect.
It’s supposed to be a tactical solution.
There definitely is a problem with consumer protection disclosure. People don’t know what they’re getting. It’s not presented in a way the consumer understands.
The next reason is monopoly. But you already have laws there. They’re not enforced. The problem is the FTC, not the FCC.
There’s also a failed unbundling issue. You want to stop monopoly rents, but it doesn’t work. You’re chucking out the baby with the bathwater. Price discrimination in a competitive market is a good thing.
I can see a vague argument, a moral right to a neutral network, but over the last 25 years your elected representatives have made really bad deals on your behalf. While the network may have been built with public money, telcos may have made promises they didn’t live up to, but it’s over, you can’t undo it.
I also see the Internet needs us argument. That doesn’t stand up. The Internet is a voluntary exchange. But the Internet isn’t sacred. You can conceive other ways of organizing it.
It doesn’t stand up as a practical issue. The 1996 Telecomm Act set up the unbundling regime, the telcos fought it. It will be easier for them to get around network neutrality. There are lots of ways of doing it. It’s too easy. It’s not going to work.
When are you going to design this? Do you really want the courts involved?
Imagine spending more on lawyers than on network engineers.
It’s also a strategic error. You’re making consumer welfare dependent on law and lobbying. You’re fighting the telcos on their strongest land, on law. It creates uncertainty for new entrants. Who wants to be a CLEC competing on the basis of network neutrality? And it prohibits the price discrimination that might actually be useful.
We might actually want non-neutral networks. It would be of benefit to consumers to access a local-only network, which reflected the low costs of moving bits locally. Should that be disallowed? That would be crazy.
Maybe we do want a network where Google can subsidize content? They can sponsor it and you get the adverts.
It’s also a philosophical error. The Internet isn’t a thing. It’s a mesh of agreements people have entered into to move pancakes. And each is a contract. So you have to insert yourself into millions of contracts, and do a post hoc change of their rules.
It’s amazing how many people who were violently against the Kelo decision will let private risk capital taken in the network neutrality rules. Can a network be recaptured for the public interest?
People also think the current Internet is neutral. It isn’t. The Internet address space doesn’t respect country boundaries. It’s a value judgement. The Internet doesn’t let you trace back from an IP address to who it is. There’s no identity infrastructure. It’s possible to imagine better coming, and fossilizing is a mistake.
There are certain assumptions built into the Internet, and it’s not the only way to build an Internet.
It is a free speech issue. But a blanket law harms consumers.
Imagine AT&T offering a $10/month account to those who can’t afford more, but it only goes to their favored content. You want to make that illegal?
The fundamental problem is that the stupider the network the more value it has. There’s a temptation to grab the bits and capture value.
We need to better align the interests of network owners and users.
We need a third way,something other than monopoly ownership or nationalized networks.
That means focusing on pricing and financing. We see that happening at the fringes. The last hop may be a WiFi network. We see mesh networks, community networks, open utility networks. We can’t, as neighborhoods, commission connectivity that isn’t owned by a feudal overlord.
Concentrate on spectrum, and don’t fossilize the network.
Neutrality is an outcome. IT is an end. You can try to pass a law saying everyone gets a gigabit fiber connection, but it’’ not a good idea.
Question: Are Part 68 rules a mistake?
Geddes – It depends on the context. In the context of Ma Bell it was essential. In the context of cellular, which is not yet a competitive market, vertical integration has created consumer benefit. That issue may be ending, but it’s not automatically a bad thing.
Question: Is the broadband network competitive
Geddes – In the US no, it’s expensive and slow.
Network neutrality embeds you into the monopoly.
Question: So your vision is the cell phone network?
Geddes – No. The cellphone market bundles a lot of things together. It’s not a competitive market because of rules around spectrum and other licensing issue.
Question: What’s an example of your principle working well?
Geddes – Cellular did work well for a while.