The Candidates (and Vint Cerf) on Net Neutrality


John McCain's technology platform (discussed here previously) says he opposes network neutrality.

This strikes me as an area where it hurts McCain to be less familiar with quotidian technology like the net than he is with telecom lobbyists.

Barack Obama's site says he "strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet."

Here's an excerpt from my recent conversation with Vint Cerf (more here):

This [network neutrality] is more complicated than it looks. The debate was boiled down to bumper stickers for a while, which was not helpful in terms of understanding what the issues were.

Openness to new applications, openness to devices that are compatible, those things are important to us. At Google, we took the view that the providers of Internet access should not take advantage of their access position to interfere with people offering competitive applications to the applications provided by the underlying transport and access provider.

The worry that we have is that the provision of broadband service by a particular party might be used to prevent others from competing with that party's value-added applications.

Video might be an example. In the case of a cable company offering broadband service, but also offering video services, the company might say, "I can interfere with my competitors by not letting them deliver video over the Internet part of my offering." We think that is not a good thing from the consumer point of view, certainly not from the innovative point of view.

On the other hand, the opponents of this position argue that the net neutrality people were saying that every bit has to be treated identically, and that you couldn't charge more for more capacity, and so on, and that's not the case. I accept the idea that (A), you do have to manage your network, and (B), there may be more demand than there is capacity. What you have to do at that point is somehow share the available capacity in a fair way.

It might be that somebody has purchased higher capacity to the net than you have, and that person should have more access to the Net than you do, even in congested conditions -- but on a pro rata basis.

Should the network access providers have the responsibility and the ability to defend against denial of service attacks or other problems? Absolutely. What about low-delay stuff, low-latency things like voice? No disagreement that you could treat those things with lower latency service than things like file transfers or email.

The point here is that no one should be denied access to these various facilities because of who they are, or if they're competitor they shouldn't be denied access to those facilities. So this is a fairness issue more than anything else. It doesn't mean you can't manage you net, it means you have to do it in a fair way.

Related: FCC chair Kevin Martin talks latency.


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