Broadband Prioritization Not Such A Terrible Idea, Georgetown University Panelists Say

Broadband's Impact, FCC, National Broadband Plan June 17th, 2014

, Reporter, Broadband Breakfast News

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2014 – Paid prioritization may not be such a bad idea – in fact, the notion that the entire internet needs to be treated equally is misleading, said panelists at a June 10 symposium on internet regulation.

Internet users might have greater interest in seeing phone packets go through first than someone downloading an episode of “Game of Thrones,” to take a hypothetical episode, said Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

“I have a deep interest in my Skype conversation going reasonably well and I really am indifferent to whether my email gets delivered 27 milliseconds late, unless you’re always looking at your email…even then, 27 milliseconds isn’t bad,” said Atkinson.

Similarly, a highly competitive multiplayer video game might give a company good reasons to pay for prioritization, Atkinson said.

It’s a “game of gigs,” said Aspen Institute fellow Blair Levin in reference to the broadband landscape. And much like “Game of Thrones,” Levin said, “not everyone’s going to survive.”

“Network providers block many, many things. They block malware,” Atkinson said. “If they didn’t, all computers would be infected. The question is, what kind of blocking?”

Core values are needed, said AT&T’s vice president of public policy Brent Olson: reliability, consumer protection, competition, and public safety. While the panelists all shared this sentiment, none had a definite answer to what the proper regulatory framework should be at this time.

While ISPs should be prohibited from punishing certain consumers, Patrick Gilmore, chief technology officer of Markley Group, said that there was a big misconception about “fast lanes” and “slow lanes”: They don’t actually exist.

“I like to think of it more as a freeway ramp with too many cars and you let some of them cut in line. There’s not two pipes. There’s actually just one pipe” with a que” Gilmore said.

ISPs technically have no incentive to ever block traffic for some users and content providers, said Olson. The only provider that’s ever tried that last decade was a small telecommunications company called Madison River, he said, and it’s now bankrupt.

Jeffrey Campbell, vice president of global government affairs for Americas at Cisco Systems, expressed his fear that a major legislative change — including reclassifying internet services as Title II public utility under a theory of broadband as a public utility would bring about rules that make no sense in the current technology marketplace.

If regulatory bodies are going to interfere with broadband at all, the best route is the one that causes the least harm, Campbell said. That route would be the much more modest approach of Section 706, which was added to the Communications Act in 1996.

“I’m a real believer in what I call Sword of Damocles regulation – it’s the sword that’s going to come down and get [people] if they do something wrong,” Campbell said. “You can write whatever you want in the rules, but at the end of the day, if a large national provider does something that just feels wrong, smells wrong, is wrong – whether it’s against the rules or not – it will stop.”

Practices inciting controversy among people have always ended prematurely, Campbell said. He said they were halted without rules because the public didn’t like what was going on.

” As long as we have transparency and sunlight, any problems that arise will be cleansed no matter what regulatory regime we have,” said Campbell.

Gilmore did not agree. Although it is true that some bad actors change when exposed, there are also bad actors on whose actions are never she light in the first place.

“Comcast got caught…making sure that unless you paid them for peering, your traffic would never get through, [at least] not reliably,” he said. ”Comcast in many ways is a monopoly. When I sit at home, I have a choice between 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) Verizon and 100 Mbps Comcast. Guess which one I use? Guess how much public outcry there was about Comcast saying, ‘oh, my transit is kind of congested.’ There was none.”

The reason it is not being corrected, Gilmore said, is because there’s nowhere else to turn for consumers. Switching to the 1 Mbps Verizon network is not a viable option. Ultimately,  even Gilmore said he is “scared about government regulation on the internet” because of the damage it could cause ISPs by requiring interconnection.

Campbell said Internet traffic is projected to triple by 2018. He said letting “suits” in Washington decide the fate of the web might be misguided.

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