Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

As mentioned earlier, my department recently held a very successful Computer Science Research Day. The keynote speaker was Dr. Guru Parulkar, Stanford researcher (and UD alum) working on a project called the "Clean Slate Design for the Internet." The goal of this work is to re-design the Internet with 'modern' features that will improve security and quality of service, as well as provide new classes of services.

I viewed his entire presentation as a direct attack against Network Neutrality. The basic premise was that the Internet is broken, it's getting worse, and it needs to be fixed. How do we fix it? Increased 'control & management' by ISPs and government. A central theme seemed to be finding new ways for ISPs to monetize traffic and develop 'value-added services.' In other words, getting me to pay for things I can get for free elsewhere. This will be accomplished by denying or degrading access to competitors in the name of 'security,' 'reliability,' and 'return on investment.'

My question to the speaker was, "Many people would argue that the freedom and success of the Internet is a result of what you refer to as the 'dumb' infrastructure. If we were to implement the changes you propose, how would Network Neutrality survive?" [paraphrase]

Dr. Parulkar's response was based on the claim that it wasn't 'fair' that Google made billions while Comcast's market capitalization remained stagnant. The last time I checked, these companies were in entirely different businesses, although Dr. Parulkar conveniently lumps them together as "service providers." Why in the world would I ever want to pay Comcast (or Verizon, or Time Warner, etc.) additional fees for poorly designed implementations of services I can get for free elsewhere? I pay my ISP for access to the Internet, and Google et al. pay ISPs for their net access, so why do the ISPs believe they are entitled to any additional remuneration for this connection?

The phrase "Network Neutrality" was not mentioned until I brought it up in my question. I believe the subject was intentionally avoided.

ISPs are a utility, just like the electric company. I just want to pay a competitive market price for unfettered Internet access with no strings attached. Is that really an unreasonable expectation? Unfortunately, many ISPs don't understand the business they are in, and apparently, neither do many researchers.

It's ironic that Stanford, original home to Google who has thrived due in large part to Network Neutrality, is leading the charge against it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who takes issue with the underlying purposes of this project.


benvanderbeek said...

I don't know why I allow myself to be surprised by stuff like this. Bafflingly Big Brotherish.

Charlie said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not 100% behind all of the tenets put forward by proponents of Network Neutrality. I'm against any government control over the use of private property. While I think most NN policies are commercially beneficial for ISPs, it should be up to them to decide how to manage their private networks, not some government bureaucrat.