Friday, August 20, 2010

Worth the Listen—Net Neutrality

Ok, here's something for those of you that are aural learners or just like a good rousing speech...The FCC hearings in Minnesota on Net Neutrality.

Franken starts @ 17 minutes
Copps begins @ 31 minutes
Clyburn @ 55 minutes
Chris Mitchell @ 72 minutes

This one's been making the rounds of the may well have heard remarks about Senator Franken' speech or raves about FCC Commissioner Copps' (An FCC commissioner got a standing ovation? Really!? Really... And deserved it. ) Both of those are well worth the time spent listening. Franken has lost none of his wry, dry wit in the transition to Senator and who knew that any nerdish regulator had the capacity to give a stem-winder like Copps did? The freshman on the FCC team, newly appointed Mignon Clyburn turned in a journeyman piece of work as well.

But the hidden gem is in the follow-up to the headliners. Don't miss Chris Mitchell—friend of Lafayette and all-round advocate of community-owned networks—get in his licks. He makes his points—that regulation is a necessary check on the self-interest of corporations, that the FCC's role is to regulate in the public, not the private interest, and that all communities should be allowed to own their own networks. The FCC has the authority to do all this and should, he avers. In the process he cites Lafayette for being a model of non-partisan, local decision-making and the best-value network in the United States. "...Lafayette, operates the absolute best broadband network, as measured by value; for less than 30 dollars a month anyone can get a 10 gigabit connection. St. Paul I have to pay 3 times that much to get anything like that upload."

Of course, not all of us are willing to slow down and listen to an actual speech. Ars Technica has a very readable overview of the major players that includes the money qoutes from both Franken and Copps: "I believe that net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time," from Franken and "I suppose you can't blame companies for seeking to protect their own interests, but you can blame policy makers if we let them get away with it" brought down the house for Copps." Clyburn made it crystal clear that she, like Copps, won't stand for separating wireless data services from the internet. So, early in the game, two of the 5 FCC commissioners have made it clear that the Google-Verizion deal won't get past their desk—and that's amazingly good news.


Anonymous said...

Is LUS fiber Net Neutral?

John said...


Interesting question. Made me think.

What the ("moderate" mainline) net neutrality people are for is, basically, the status quo ante—that is, no change and rules ensuring that the current status of the internet does not change.

What is being objected to is the major incumbents' stated desire to change the way the internet works so that they can extend their current business model (essentially, in most, places a monopoly on either wireline phone or wireline cable that charges various rates for various "premium" services) to the part of their network that has so far mostly operated on a rather simple "bits are bits" basis. The incumbents would like to set up a system whereby they could charge players like Google a special, higher rate for special, smooth video streaming. Such a regime would not only raise the price of network services and erect new barriers for entry for both users and small entrepreneurs but would inevitably be used to favor their own vertically integrated products. AT&T's VOIP phone service WILL work better than Skype's. Cox's video over IP will stream perfectly and Netflix will not...

There's every indication that LUS is perfectly content to play by the rules that are in play now—(that's the moderate version of net neutral) but also every indication that they will not hesitate to use every tool their opponents use to make their network as competitive. (As evidence: they are not interested in "open networks" with competing video or phone services claiming --rightly I think--that such networks are less competitive and that they can't afford the least not yet.) So I'd not be surprised to see LUS follow the lead of the majors if their new version of the internet becomes the law of the land.

All LUS cares about, It think, is that it providing its citizens a better quality of "the same" for less. They are not interested in pioneering new business models or proving the potential of a new style of network. (I might wish this were different but I cannot fault their motives: It's the community's resource and it should be handled very responsibly--hence very conservatively.)

I suppose, then, that the real answer is something like LUS is net neutral right now...but is too small a player to contemplate acting differently if the big dogs in the nation start playing by new rules.

It is of course possible that they'll construe the new rules differently than their opponents...after all they have already done very innovative things that OUGHT to be normative if we really had real competition...they are mostly actually playing by the rules of competition where the opponents simply mouth it and act like the monopolists they are. In evidence of that: 100 megs of internal bandwidth. That costs LUS next to nothing to provide...and it would cost Cox and AT&T next to nothing as well. But they simply won't give it away anyway and there is no competitive pressure to squeeze it out of them. (Note that even the very minimal competition in wireless has forced most cell companies to not charge for all or significant portions (friends and family) of their internal calls. Similarly LUS is VERY, even astonishingly cheap in its IP network charges. That's because they are only charging for cost plus reasonable overhead, not cost plus "monopoly rent." I think both of those decisions are motivated by the fact that LUS is owned by its users and sees no reason not to give them what they safely can. This is a fundamentally different motivation from the for-profit incumbents. So POSSIBLY LUS would be a much better actor in a new order. I think so...but we'd have to wait and see.

A record? I think that's longer than the post! :-)