A senior telecommunications executive said yesterday that Internet service providers should be allowed to strike deals to give certain Web sites or services priority in reaching computer users, a controversial system that would significantly change how the Internet operates.
William L. Smith, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp., told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc.
Or, Smith said, his company should be allowed to charge a rival voice-over-Internet firm so that its service can operate with the same quality as BellSouth’s offering.
Network operators can identify the digital “packets” of content moving through their wires from sites and services and can block some or put others at the head of the stream.
But Smith was quick to say that Internet service providers should not be able to block or discriminate against Web content or services by degrading their performance.
[…] “Prioritization is just another word for degrading your competitor,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group. “If we want to ruin the Internet, we’ll turn it into a cable TV system” that carries programming from only those who pay the cable operators for transmission.
[…] Sohn said claims of bandwidth scarcity are overblown. The real agenda, she said, is to put rival services at a disadvantage.
Later: Reader Greg Wilson shares this email exchange with Gigi:
From: Gigi Sohn [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 7:31 PM
To: Wilson, Gregory
Subject: Re: Internet Data Prioritization
Mr. Wilson –
I don’t disagree with you – I think that consumers should have access to value-added services. The problem, I think, is that neither the Bells nor the cable companies have made it clear that they won’t discriminate against applications or content which compete with their own. It is that requirement that we are looking for. Thanks for writing. Best, Gigi Sohn
On Dec 1, 2005, at 7:54 PM, Wiilson, Gregory wrote:
I believe that your stance on Internet Data Prioritization is well intentioned, but slightly misplaced. A protocol, Diffserv, was already developed for this very purpose. Paid-for priority over the internet should be a luxury that an Internet consumer should have the right to afford themselves. Technologies such as VoIP and other streaming media formats can falter severely in overcrowded networks without prioritization. I work for a manufacturer of VoIP equipment and even on private network, the data MUST be prioritized in order for it to be reliable. Regular data, however, is usually just fine on these same networks if it is not prioritized because it is bursty and not a constant stream. The problem is not so much in the AMMOUNT of data as it is in the SHAPE of the data flows.
BellSouth has a very valid point in that a new business model must be developed for the ISPs (which are in many cases also the phone companies) to continue to do business on the Internet. VoIP is slowly replacing the traditional land-line in homes all over the world. That revenue stream is quickly dwindling for the carriers and they MUST find another way to keep their businesses alive. That is why they have turned to the Internet. They are not trying, so much, to force regulation upon us, but more so to offer a value-add service. The only stipulation that I could see pushing for here would be to ask Congress for a regulation on a minimum service level for an ISP to provide for non-prioritized service. This minimum should be adjustable (much like the minimum wage is today) so as to compensate for future technology enhancements. This would ensure that the Internet is not “ruined” as you stated would happen.
In implementing such a requirement, we could ensure that a company like Bell-South would not begin to show preferential treatment to certain sites and then force the slow down of others at will. This would simply base-line everyone’s throughput and allow those that pay the premium the extra benefit of quicker, more reliable transmission.
Please don’t just discount these ideas and try to kill the whole project at once. There is value here that needs to be explored (if not tweaked and changed somewhat), so we should not simply cry foul at the whole concept.