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Interesting takeaways from the first day of FTC conference on broadband connectivity

Overall I think the FTC has done a pretty good job of presenting a balanced view of the net neutrality issue.  I commend them for calling the workshop "broadband connectivity competition policy." That is what the issue is all about-- in generic non-loaded terminology.

To be brief, I will highlight just what I thought was most noteworthy.

The distinguished practioner and academic, Fred Kahn, is always a joy to learn from. Besides making his main point that government should resist its propensity to meddle he was particularly critical of many people's use of the term "discrimination." As an economist, he was frustrated that people were using the term discriminatory just if it was differential. For those that don't know or understand economics or competition policy, Mr. Kahn stated simply -- if there is opportunity cost involved, its not discriminatory. What he reminded people of is that there are lots of legitimate economic, functional, and consumer welfare reasons why service and prices can and should be different.

Alan Davidson of Google clearly took a different tack than usual. He further retreated trying to respin Google's grandiose vision of net neutrality to be more "reasonable." He gave Google's blessing to the Internet continuing like it is -- charging differently for different speeds. He also gave America Google's permission to continuing caching and stopping denial of service attacks on the Internet. Thank you Google for your permission, it means so much.

Alan Davidson of Google then went on to say that Google only has a very "small" problem with just "one type" of router discrimination -- trying to appear reasonable. Unfortunately, to anyone that uderstands networks and competiton, his "reasonable" approach is about as "reasonable" as a doctor telling a patient that all the parts of their body are healthy but that he just needs to remove their "small" cerebellum.

Tim Wu's "datatopian" wireless net neutrality rejects competiton policy

My core problems with Professor Tim Wu's white paper for the FTC on wireless net neutrality are with his disguised core assumptions.

First, it is clear from  Mr. Wu's top two recommendations that Mr. Wu rejects U.S. competition policy and wireless competition policy as abject failures.

  • He recommends caterfone for wireless!
    • The simple translation of his oxymoronic recommendation is: foster a competitive market by regulating it like a monopoly. 
  • He then doubles down on his Government-knows-best view and recommends monopoly non-discrimination regulations for competitive wireless carriers.
    • What he is really saying is abandon competition policy and let he and his brethren decide what's best for everyone.

Mr. Wu should come clean and just say in a straightforward language what his White Paper strongly implies.

  • Its obvious that Mr. Wu does not think that competition works in communications or in wireless.
  • He does not think competition best serves consumers, and has the datatopian view  that "benevolent all knowing" regulators need to decide what technologies should succeed, who can innovate and who can't, who can make money and who can't.

Second, Professor Wu analysis suffers from what I call the "perfection fallacy."

Download from my NN debate at Columbia MBA conference

Just got back from New York where Dan Brenner of NCTA and I faced off against NN proponents Professor Susan Crawford and Skype's Chris Libertelli.

It was a different format less washington-ish and more finance-ish given the audience and Eli Noam's deft moderating hand.

The quip of the day goes to my colleague Dan Brenner who summed up the net neutrality proponents views as "love the carriage, hate the carrier."

  • So true, they just want to assume that the network will always be there and not have to pay for it.

I framed my views in an MBA context, explaining what was really going on competitively and commercially in the NN debate.

  • I explained that the dominant dynamic in the sector was the collision of the converging tech and com sectors;  (My techcom thesis.) and that net neutrality was simply the politics of that violent collision..
  • I also framed it as a huge clash between the very different business models of the software industry  that wants bandwidth to be abundant and free, and the hardware/network sector that have to invest, build and make the Internet work and that have to keep up with the exploding demand of bringing video to the net.
    • I reminded them of the exaflood point that a 30 minute sitcom consumes 7,000 times more bandwidth than visiting a website,
    • You can't wave a magic wand and have the Internet handle video without lots more investment in capacity -- that someone has to pay for -- and why should it just be the consumer that has to pay that bill.

The best question was how could one bridge the gulf between the polarized sides.

Kudos to Canada in resisting NN -- debunking that everyone else supports NN

I was delighted to see Mark Goldberg's post alerting us in America that the Canadian Government is opposed to embracing net neutrality regulation as well.

I love Mark's no apologies free market stance. He knows the Internet's growth, vitality, and diversity has come from free citizens, freely interacting and cooperating, free of government intervention. As he said, let freedom reign!

This is more evidence that the rest of the world is not pro-net neutrality despite the balderdash NN proponents toss  around.  

Don't slow the Internet with regulation

What do the following three stories of the last few days have in common?

  • Yesterday, Reuters quoted Google's head of TV Technology, Vincent Dureau, saying: "the Web infrastructure, and even Google's (infastructure) doesn't scale. Its not going to offer the quality of service that consumers expect." in an article that highlighted new Internet TV services of Joost and YouTube.
  • Tuesday, USA Today had a front page story that WalMart was launching a service in conjuction with major studios to allow downloading of movies the same day as DVDs are released and the next day for TV shows through WalMart.com.  
  • USA Today also reported Tuedsay that TiVo and Amazon were launching a new service for letting online users download movies to their DVRs and then watch them on their TVs rather than their computers.

What's the common thread? Its obvious that the capacity of the Internet will have to increase exponentially and rapidly to handle the coming exponential increase in traffic generated by Internet video.

Don't miss Esther Dyson's sage interview urging restraint on NN

I have attached the link to Esther Dyson's important interview on net neutrality.

  • Her real life experience and leadership in dealing with ICANN and government regulators is worth paying attention to.
  • Esther is very widely respected in the Internet community and always thoughtful in her approach to problems.
  • She has even been dubbed the "Internet High Priestess".

More on Microsoft's "reasonable" discrimination differences with ItsOurNet

Wired has an interesting article on how Microsoft's new Vista operating system has had to make some tough and restrictive design calls that some could misread as "discriminatory".

  • The Wired article by Michael Calore, explains how Microsoft restricts or "cripples" users ability to use virtualization technologies to get certain content and how Microsoft's Defender will search for spyware and in some cases automatically delete applications.
  • it looks as if Microsoft has legitimate business reasons for this blocking, degrading and impairing of certain content and applications.  

Why this is relevant to net neutrality and Microsoft is that:

  • Microsoft has 90% share of the Internet browser market which is a potential Internet access technology bottleneck and gatekeeper that net neutrality proponents conceptually fear;
  • Microsoft as explained in this Wired article is clearly exercising its freedom to:
    • discriminate against users to force them to buy a higher priced product if they want to do certain things; and
    • design its product and service as it sees fit.
  • Microsoft clearly wants to preserve its right to differentiate and to control its product/service, something we at NetCompetition understand and support.

 Why this is relevant to Microsoft's departure from ItsOurNet is that Microsoft evidently understands that regulation can be "unreasonable" and "unjust" as I explained in a previous post.

Kudos to FCC Martin for proposing wireless broadband as info service

I was pleasantly surprised and very pleased that FCC Chairman Martin proactively released a proposed order that would reclassify wireless broadband as a Title I information service, as reported in today's Comm Daily. This order, which looks to have the support of the Republican majority, would continue to harmonize the regulatory treatment of all the major modes of broadband.

  • The FCC has already classified cable modems, DSL and BPL as unregulated info services.
  • Given the robustness of wireless competition in the U.S., reclassifying wireless broadband as an info service should be a no-brainer.
  • The FCC should also do another order to classify satellite broadband as an info service as well.

Why this is relevant to NN is that the expert agency overseeing competition in this market segment is concluding that there is sufficient competition to not require common carrier-like regulation.

  • The U. S. has three times more WiFi hotspots than any other country and more facilities-based wireless broadband investment and deployment than any other nation in the world through Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. Moreover,  Sprint and Clearwire are also beginning to build national WiMax networks.
  • Wireless competition is robust, clearly warranting an info services classification.  

  

Don't bother NN proponents with the facts on broadband competition...

As expected proponents of net neutrality ignore facts that don't push their anti-business, big government point of view. When the FCC broadband report is replete with powerful evidence that broadband competition and penetration are increasing impressively, NN proponents don't like the message so they shoot the messenger.

Comm Daily today quoted a Public Knowledge spokesperson who said:  the FCC numbers were "invalid" and that he wouldn't even "go there" what trends or developments the group sees in the report because it is "measuring a world that does not comport with reality."

Wireless broadband dominates broadband growth in FCC Broadband Report

Evidence continues to mount that the broadband sector is increasingly competitive and that it is not the permanent cable/DSL "duopoly" that net neutrality supporters claim. The FCC just released its biannual report on high speed of broadband adoption and the new evidence showing more competition is powerful.

The most important takeaway from the FCC's report is that 58% or 7.9m of the 11.0m total broadband adds over the first six months of 2006 were wireless broadband -- NOT DSL or cable modem.  That's not how a "permanent DSL/Cable duopoly" behaves -- is it?

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Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths