Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Network Neutrality: What the Cable Companies and Telcos Want

In the plans the cable companies and telcos are considering, everyone -- from content providers to consumers -- would pay more to connect to the network. The marketing material from the networking vendors (like Cisco) -- who anticipate a windfall from new infrastructure spending -- points to an ominous future for the Internet.

Here's Cisco's brochure hawking its Service Exchange features:

...By tracking all IP traffic flows and performing stateful deep packet inspection, the solution collects statistics on the applications and services used by individual subscribers. Taking the guesswork out of capacity planning and detailing the subscriber demographics helps operators uncover the new revenue potential and hidden operational costs associated with IP service delivery in both broadband and mobile

...Specifying a User’s Bandwidth Based on Access or Type of Application - For example, depending on the way a subscriber logs on to the network, the service provider can determine the services that are available for that session...
...Identifying Subscribers and Associating their use of Specific Applications - This capability is essential to optimize application-level traffic and, furthermore, help ensure operators can accurately meter and charge for individual or bundles of premium services.

Furthermore, Cisco's marketing lit points to a future in which the carrier -- not the merit of the content provider -- determines which services live or die. Though the phrasing is couched in terms of "partnerships" with independent content-providers, the implication is clear and foreboding: the carrier will control whose packets transit the network:

One of the most significant risks that broadband service providers face is the threat from “nonfacility” service offerings. Traditional service provider services often compete with alternative “over-the-top” services such as broadband voice, online DVD streaming and downloads, and centralized multiplayer online gaming. Nonfacility services typically ride on a best-effort network and may not benefit from the same QoS as managed “triple-play” services.

Nevertheless, nonfacility operators can provide an adequate user experience with comparatively lower operational expenses and a larger addressable market, making them formidable competitors.

However, with the Cisco Service Exchange Framework, service providers can treat over-the-top services as partners rather than competition. By creating an open network environment through which nonfacility operators can ensure a more reliable customer experience for their application traffic, broadband service providers can create new revenue-sharing business models. The Cisco SEF allows service providers to efficiently and equitably identify nonfacility service traffic streams for billing, auditing, and guaranteed performance...

Read between the lines. The SEF exists to monitor and control performance of competing services. Say AT&T wants to get into the search-engine business. What better way to get started than to start slowing down the leading search engines?

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