Common Carriage and the Argument for Net Neutrality

Common carriage describes many net neutrality advocates' position. Unfortunately, many of us tend to think of net neutrality in a single-minded way. Specifically, we think about it in terms of transportation systems and other services that are offered for the "public good". For many, net neutrality does not equal supporting common carriage.

In my opinion, net neutrality is a really bad term for those people advocating maintaining the Internet's end-to-end principle or those supporting Internet Service Providers' (ISPs') requirement to adhere to the requirements of common carriage. For many net neutrality advocates, this goes well beyond requiring common carriage. They want to insist that ISPs may not charge more money for better than best-effort bandwidth or require them to completely open up their pipes to all outside parties at the same rates they charge to their internal groups. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum exists and pro multi-tier Internet group who want to fundamentally change the existing rules for best-effort bandwidth pricing. Ed Whitacre's comments are representative of this point of view. To put this in perspective, I put together the following visual. (You can click on it to enlarge.)

By thinking about perspectives on the multi-tier Internet and net neutrality as a spectrum or continuum, we can better understand the politics as well as lack of clarity on the subject. I argue that most people's views are not at one extreme or the other. Instead, I believe, most broadband users as well as ISPs would prefer to support the notion of common carriage for new services like video streaming. Some, may even want to see this extended to VoIP providers like Skype and Vonage -- giving these companies competitive access to low latency services on the broadband pipes. My guess, is that if your a current user of these services you probably are in this camp but you wouldn't push the envelope too far by taking the extreme position that ISPs must completely open their pipes.

At the other end, you may only care about net neutrality if a "direct peering" model exists for broadband providers as has been articulated by some. Under this approach, access network providers (broadband ISPs) would interconnect their networks with big media. In this way, ISPs would only sell their premium bandwidth services to those companies who interconnected with them to their network. It certainly would not support the end-to-end principle or the requirements of common carriage because not everyone who was connected to the Internet backbone could get access to this better bandwidth.

How does your view on the subject fit under this model?

Jeff Turner

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