Network neutrality "a phantom problem," says industry association

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Network neutrality "a phantom problem," says industry association

Chicago (IL) – The US Internet Industry Association (USIIA) opened another chapter in the discussion about a possible legislation to ensure “network neutrality,” which aims to prevent the creation of a tiered Internet by carriers and Internet service providers (ISPs): The USIIA, calls it a “phantom problem” and believes that regulation could result in “unintended consequences.”

The topic of network neutrality has been gaining steam ever since carrier executives brought up the issue that especially carriers could be thinking about the creation of a tiered Internet by creating new service models that would not only impact consumers but also Internet companies such as Google. In a recent development, Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has introduced a “Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006,” which promises to stop companies from establishing two-tiered pricing for email and other traffic.

Legislation and regulation of the Internet, however, could backfire, believes the USIIA. “Network neutrality continues to be nothing more than a solution in search of a problem,” said David McClure, president and chief executive of the organization, whose membership is heavily relying on telecommunications companies. “It literally destroys advances made in broadband and broadband technologies, and could serve to permanently cripple America’s ability to compete in the global economy as well as the ability of consumers to maintain their current choices in telecommunications services.”

In a white paper published on Tuesday, the organizations aid that legislation to ensure network neutrality “will stifle innovation and cripple America’s ability to deal with spam, viruses and predatory applications over the Internet.” Instead of adopting network neutrality as an industry initiative, “special interests have hijacked the policy of network neutrality (…) and twisted it to an entirely different purpose – preventing network operators from exploring ways to guarantee the reliability of advanced Internet services over a public Internet that was not designed to be reliable,” the USIIA said.

Recently, Cisco joined the discussion and mirrored the opinion of carriers on network neutrality. In a letter directed to Joe Barton, R-Texas, chief executive John Chambers recommended not to engage in any legislation activity to enable carriers innovate and develop network management technologies that could solve capacity and traffic issues affecting Internet infrastructure.

However, this world is rarely painted in black and white, but mostly in shades of grey. . Recalling Ed Whitacre’s quote in an interview with Business Week on 7 November 2005, net neutrality is not just about innovation; it is also about revenues, for example. Asked about his concerns on firms such as Google, the AT&T chief executive replied, “Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. (…) The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!”

Another example is AOL’s controversial plan to introduce a pay-to-send email system. According to the company, one of the main goals of the service would be a more efficient battle against spam; however, the system does not only mean that senders need to be certified by Goodmail to obtain a “trusted” icon in AOL users’ inboxes, but would also require a payment of a “fraction of a cent” per message for this type of delivery.

Consumer advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) appear to be increasingly concerned about the debate on neutrality of Internet services. For example, the EFF questions AOL’s fee-based email system, and claims that it is simply not possible to create a higher level of service on what exists today. “You basically need a degradation of current services to be able offer a value added service,” said EFF’s Danny O’Brien. A pay-to-send service works in the fashion of “if you follow our rules, we won’t trash your email,” he said. “If people note that some emails are missing in their inbox, then this is going to be a problem.” O’Brien disagreed with the USIIA’s statement that such trends are required to maintain today’s pace of innovation. He conceded that regulation tends to be “over-broad or over-narrow” but believes that “there may be a regulatory solution to this issue.”

Other than the USIIA, however, O’Brien believes that network neutrality is a problem: “We are seeing here a bunch of connected problems. To claim that network neutrality is ‘a solution in search of a problem’ is wrong; its quite the opposite,” he said.