The Problem with Net Neutrality

Regarding FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s recent proposal to create a “Net neutrality” rule covering the broadband Internet, a few comments:

Let’s begin at the beginning: The Internet is not a single system. It’s a multitude of mostly private networks of varying capacity and speeds. True, they share the same basic software protocols but the networks have such fundamental differences (e.g., shared node vs. dedicated line, fiber optic vs. coaxial cable) that using the same label to describe them gives a misleading impression.

Second, there’s a big difference between Internet Protocol (IP) services, which often require end-to-end service over a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and applications run over the public Internet. For example, Net neutrality proponents often talk about how data sent over “the Internet” has always been equal. But VPNs have been offering fee-based services for 20 years that involve expediting data transmission.

This is a key distinction when applied to online video, especially IP television. From an engineering perspective, IP TV data cannot touch the public Internet and maintain quality comparable to cable or satellite. Even if the data spent only part of their transmission outside of the VPN, the quality would be fatally compromised.

That is why data for many time-sensitive applications (IP television, HD video streams) must travel over a dedicated network end-to-end.

That’s also why, from an economic perspective, it is a pretty radical concept for the FCC to consider regulating comparable treatment guarantees for multiple video streams! The Net neutrality concept implies that a competitor should have video service over the public Internet that is comparable to private network speed and quality. With the huge cost to deploy new technology, no ISP could afford to build that kind of a network.

More coming…