Net Neutrality Critics Now in the Limelight

In the wake of the Federal Communications Commission’s “network management” event in Cambridge, Mass., on February 25, it looks as though Net Neutrality critics are finally enjoying their day in the sun.


Last week, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation hosted two of the most knowledgeable critics, Richard Bennett and Brett Glass, at their own forum on the subject. At the event, Brett unveiled a list of his own seven Net Neutrality principles. For Glass, it’s all about disclosure — full disclosure of the Internet Service Provider’s terms of service, disclosure of the behavior of software, and “no obfuscation” about the way that software has on network management.


Bennett was one of a handful of Net Neutrality critics to also testify at the FCC event at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, the majority of whose witnesses spoke out sharply against Comcast’s decision to delay traffic to the P2P application BitTorrent. Bennett posted the slides that he presented at the ITIF event, in which he articulated his own eight questions on appropriate network management practices:


  1. Does the practice support a rational goal, such as the fair distribution of bandwidth?
  2. Is it applied, adapted, or modified by network conditions?
  3. Does it conform to standard Internet practices, or to national or international standards, and if not, does it improve on them?
  4. Has it been communicated to customers?
  5. Has technical information that would allow for independent analysis been made available to the research community and the public at large?
  6. Does the practice interfere with customer control of traffic priorities or parameters consistent with terms of service?
  7. Is the practice efficient with respect to both the upstream and downstream data paths?
  8. Does the practice accomplish its purpose with minimal disruption to the network experience of customers as a whole?


Bennett’s talk highlighted how Japan’s 100 megabits per second delivery to the home has created a traffic mix dominated by peer-to-peer applications. On his blog, he noted that now it appears as though Japan’s Internet service providers are going to go after P2P piracy.


Meanwhile, the debate about piracy and network management is about to get more complicated here at home. Last week Motion Picture Association of America chairman Dan Glickman waded into the debate by opposing mandatory network neutrality rules.


In a speech at the ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas, Glickman said: “Government regulation of the Internet would be a terrible reversal of American innovation policy … would impede our ability to respond to consumers in innovative ways and impair the ability of broadband providers to address the serious and rampant piracy problems occurring over their networks today.”


The Independent Film & Television Alliance responded in a letter on March 14 that it was “astounded” to hear that the major studios “denounced the principle of ‘net neutrality’ and its advocates.”


Other critics of Net Neutrality are raising fears of an “Internet Traffic Jam,” which was favorably reported on by Steve Lohr of The New York Times on March 13. According to Lohr’s story, many experts are warning that the new World Wide Wait is being caused by P2P video users hogging all of those fat pipes that the cable and telco providers spent billion to rollout.


Predictions to the contrary aside, the fights over Net Neutrality aren’t over. Not at all.