Sameer Soleja’s misrepresentation of Net Neutrality
It’s amazing how much ignorance is perpetuated about the issue of Net Neutrality and Sameer Soleja of the Baker Institute just posted the usual nonsense from the Internet regulation crowed. Soleja posted this misleading blog entry on Net Neutrality that completely misrepresents the policy debate on Net neutrality and wrote:
“Let’s say you’ve settled into the couch in your living room to watch “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” streaming from Netflix. What if your Internet provider decides that Jack Nicholson is less important than your neighbor’s work e-mail attachment, and all of a sudden your movie stops playing for a minute? That’d be annoying.
Maybe you would be willing to pay just a bit more to make sure you could watch Netflix without interruption. Now, what if your provider were to charge you $50 a month for this privilege? Could you switch carriers in protest? Sure you could, unless your provider had an exclusive agreement to provide access to Netflix.”
This has absolutely nothing to do with the Net Neutrality debate and anyone familiar with any of the proposed regulation or proposed legislation on Net Neutrality knows this. The nightmare scenario painted by Soleja is a non-issue in the policy debate because your broadband provider is contractually obligated by their peering agreements to carry Netflix traffic with best effort even without additional payment from Netflix or the end user to specifically access Netflix.
If your broadband provider blocks Netflix unless either you or Netflix pays the broadband provider, that is a violation of the broadband provider’s contractual obligations to its Internet peering partners and to its broadband customer. The broadband provider would also get raked over the coal by the public, the media, the FCC and the Congress so it is a complete nonstarter.
However, your broadband provider is free to offer you or some website an enhancement at a fee, though the transactional cost and price sensitivity of consumers make consumer paid enhancements extremely unlikely to succeed in the market place. The broadband provider can and is more likely to offer an enhanced service to Netflix or some other website at a price to performance ratio that is competitive in the marketplace to alternatives like generic IP transit service or Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). So long as the offer doesn’t carry an implied or explicit threat to de-prioritize or block the site below best effort for rejecting the offer, it is legal practice in the Internet marketplace that will be adopted or rejected by the market place.
For example, reviews of Comcast’s paid peering service (likely taken offline due to the Non Disclosure nature of the information) suggested that it could at times perform twice as well as congested IP transit services while costing a third of traditional Internet transit rates.
Note: Most business to business (B2B) transactions are conducted under NDA because they are treated as trade secrets and Google for example forces all of its suppliers to sign NDAs. An Intel executive once bragged about winning Google’s business and that didn’t go over well with Google. This is why we rarely hear about the truly non-neutral and highly differentiated nature of the Internet.
Net Neutrality proponents want to outlaw these purely voluntary agreements and they’ve managed to get the current FCC majority to propose outlawing the sale of “enhanced or prioritized” services to Business to Customer (B2C) websites even if they are completely beneficial to the website, the broadband provider, and the consumer. But to scare the public into supporting these restrictive regulations on voluntary agreements that are available at non-discriminatory prices to anyone, Net Neutrality proponents like Sameer Soleja wants the public to believe that they are stopping broadband providers from engaging in extortion.
Here are some more misleading arguments from Sameer Soleja about these supposedly exclusive agreements:
“Exclusive agreements are part of the long game, and one that net neutrality proponents worry about feverishly. Websites such as CNN might require Internet providers to pay them for access. Alternatively, Internet providers such as Verizon might charge individual websites to allow access for subscribers on their networks. (Neither of these scenarios, by the way, is far-fetched. ESPN360.com is only accessible to customers of certain telcos, and Verizon largely locks its subscribers into using Microsoft’s Bing search engine on their BlackBerrys.) At this point, the Internet starts looking like a giant cable television network. Consumers are definitely not on the winning end of that configuration.”
It’s very ironic that Soleja picked ESPN360 as an example of ISP extortion. ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360) isn’t a case of ISPs holding up websites for money; it’s just the opposite. I broke this story in 2006 that ESPN blocks entire ISP networks unless the ISP pays ESPN a per-subscriber fee.
The blackberry example has nothing to do with the wired broadband world and there are no such examples in wired broadband. Soleja is conflating device and web browser settings with mobile broadband. The mobile world operates very differently and the web browser search settings varies from device to device but can be changed by the end user. It is no different than Google’s play on Clearwire and what Apple will be doing on their iPhone or iPad devices.
These misrepresentations about the Net Neutrality debate are widespread and even the Washington Post’s attempt at a thoughtful discussion had many serious factual errors about how the Internet works. We cannot write good Internet policy based on emotions and myths.