Response to Left Foot Forward on Net Neutrality and the iPlayer

January 06, 2011 8:54 PM

Our friends over at Left Foot Forward have a post about requiring more honesty in the Net Neutrality debate. I can’t agree with them more; however the way Chris Tarquini arrives at this conclusion is a bit flawed and will worsen the confusion over exactly what Net Neutrality is. This requires a wider discussion which I have been hoping my previous posts would create.

First thing first, Ed Vaizey hasn’t ditched Net Neutrality all together. Or rather, he hasn’t ditched his definition of Net Neutrality though the media might interpret it that way. And this is exactly the problem. ‘Net Neutrality’ means so many things to so many different people and it is used is so many different ways. What Net Neutrality actually is in general, is this: all Internet traffic should be treated equally and should be able to be accessed regardless of the platform used. So effectively, I should be able to stream a video at home from my iPad. This already happens. And it happens because Internet traffic is managed in such a way that the bandwidth required to stream a YouTube video gets priority over the smaller amount of bandwidth required by my neighbour when he sends an email to his gran. My neighbour won’t notice a tiny delay that could interrupt my programme and occasionally does during peak hours. This means that, yes, Internet traffic is not in fact treated equally. I can also access the video from my iPad, laptop, or any other device because the device itself is built by hardware and software engineers who use agreed upon protocols and standards to develop computers and Internet access devices – and not by government imposed regulation. So why do we need new regulation that may prevent this access from continuing to happen?

Second thing, Chris Tarquini has fallen into the same trap as the BBC by saying,

“The organisations who would profit financially from the deregulation of net neutrality laws...”

What Net Neutrality laws? Where? Who passed them in the UK or the EU? In the UK and the EU both, there is not a single Net Neutrality law and there are no active plans to have one. The EU and the UK use light touch regulation to ensure that ISPs are operating in a competitive environment and are hands off to allow for innovation. Even the US hasn’t passed any laws relating to Net Neutrality. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission voted to enforce their definition of Net Neutrality in December (which includes the phrase ‘reasonable traffic management’ by the way) and this proclamation hasn’t been debated as a possible law or passed in Congress and, therefore, will be facing legal scrutiny this year. So as I said to the BBC yesterday, some global government has yet to pass these Net Neutrality laws. This isn’t about rolling back current regulation – it is about stopping new regulation from happening. So if you like the Internet as it is now you are with me on this so far!

Third and finally, to the point that, “ISPs are under no obligation to ‘invest in the next generation of internet infrastructure’”. I agree. However, why wouldn’t they? Internet Service Providers are in the business of providing Internet access to customers. Why would they not invest in the very technical infrastructure that they sell access too? Sure, companies like TalkTalk are resellers of Internet access that is provided by another company, but that company can’t just give all of their money away to their shareholders and be done with it. (Though the shareholders would probably enjoy the one time payment!) They wouldn’t have a business to run if they did that. So I ask again, why wouldn’t businesses invest in themselves to improve their business, creating better services that they can then charge for?

If the UK and EU ‘abandons’ Net Neutrality – the term and not the law – then software like the BBC iPlayer would benefit greatly from something like BT’s Content Connect. Imagine streaming any on demand video program without the buffering and traffic stalls that we have now occasionally. I would pay an extra £1 or £2 to have Silent Witness stream without traffic issues. Sign me up. Net Neutrality could actually kill the iPlayer because by ‘treating all Internet traffic equally’ streaming of content on the iPlayer could slow to a crawl. And apparently creating a ‘two-tier’ or, in reality, a multi-tier Internet like we already have would be too much for Internet users to handle. But clearly understanding that regulation upon regulation on financial markets or the Internet industry might create negative unintended consequences is too much for Mr. Tarquini to understand.

So I think now is the time to have an open and honest debate about Net Neutrality. And maybe we can all agree on what it exactly it means. Then from there we can debate the pros and cons of the actual regulation. Judging from Chris Tarquini’s post, and his support for services like the iPlayer, maybe he is on our side after all?Our friends over at Left Foot Forward have a post about requiring more honesty in the Net Neutrality debate. I can’t agree with them more; however the way Chris Tarquini arrives at this conclusion is a bit flawed and will worsen the confusion over exactly what Net Neutrality is. This requires a wider discussion which I have been hoping my previous posts would create.

First thing first, Ed Vaizey hasn’t ditched Net Neutrality all together. Or rather, he hasn’t ditched his definition of Net Neutrality though the media might interpret it that way. And this is exactly the problem. ‘Net Neutrality’ means so many things to so many different people and it is used is so many different ways. What Net Neutrality actually is in general, is this: all Internet traffic should be treated equally and should be able to be accessed regardless of the platform used. So effectively, I should be able to stream a video at home from my iPad. This already happens. And it happens because Internet traffic is managed in such a way that the bandwidth required to stream a YouTube video gets priority over the smaller amount of bandwidth required by my neighbour when he sends an email to his gran. My neighbour won’t notice a tiny delay that could interrupt my programme and occasionally does during peak hours. This means that, yes, Internet traffic is not in fact treated equally. I can also access the video from my iPad, laptop, or any other device because the device itself is built by hardware and software engineers who use agreed upon protocols and standards to develop computers and Internet access devices – and not by government imposed regulation. So why do we need new regulation that may prevent this access from continuing to happen?

Second thing, Chris Tarquini has fallen into the same trap as the BBC by saying,

“The organisations who would profit financially from the deregulation of net neutrality laws...”

What Net Neutrality laws? Where? Who passed them in the UK or the EU? In the UK and the EU both, there is not a single Net Neutrality law and there are no active plans to have one. The EU and the UK use light touch regulation to ensure that ISPs are operating in a competitive environment and are hands off to allow for innovation. Even the US hasn’t passed any laws relating to Net Neutrality. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission voted to enforce their definition of Net Neutrality in December (which includes the phrase ‘reasonable traffic management’ by the way) and this proclamation hasn’t been debated as a possible law or passed in Congress and, therefore, will be facing legal scrutiny this year. So as I said to the BBC yesterday, some global government has yet to pass these Net Neutrality laws. This isn’t about rolling back current regulation – it is about stopping new regulation from happening. So if you like the Internet as it is now you are with me on this so far!

Third and finally, to the point that, “ISPs are under no obligation to ‘invest in the next generation of internet infrastructure’”. I agree. However, why wouldn’t they? Internet Service Providers are in the business of providing Internet access to customers. Why would they not invest in the very technical infrastructure that they sell access too? Sure, companies like TalkTalk are resellers of Internet access that is provided by another company, but that company can’t just give all of their money away to their shareholders and be done with it. (Though the shareholders would probably enjoy the one time payment!) They wouldn’t have a business to run if they did that. So I ask again, why wouldn’t businesses invest in themselves to improve their business, creating better services that they can then charge for?

If the UK and EU ‘abandons’ Net Neutrality – the term and not the law – then software like the BBC iPlayer would benefit greatly from something like BT’s Content Connect. Imagine streaming any on demand video program without the buffering and traffic stalls that we have now occasionally. I would pay an extra £1 or £2 to have Silent Witness stream without traffic issues. Sign me up. Net Neutrality could actually kill the iPlayer because by ‘treating all Internet traffic equally’ streaming of content on the iPlayer could slow to a crawl. And apparently creating a ‘two-tier’ or, in reality, a multi-tier Internet like we already have would be too much for Internet users to handle. But clearly understanding that regulation upon regulation on financial markets or the Internet industry might create negative unintended consequences is too much for Mr. Tarquini to understand.

So I think now is the time to have an open and honest debate about Net Neutrality. And maybe we can all agree on what it exactly it means. Then from there we can debate the pros and cons of the actual regulation. Judging from Chris Tarquini’s post, and his support for services like the iPlayer, maybe he is on our side after all?

Latest Blogs: