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Wrong on the "Exaflood," Wrong on Network Neutrality

David Isenberg

In 2007, Johna Till Johnson, president of Nemertes Research, published a paper that hyped a so-called "Exaflood" — a kooky Discovery Institute idea about how the Internet would drown in its own data.

The Nemertes press release on the paper was widely reported in newspapers. It described itself as a ". . . landmark study . . . groundbreaking analysis . . . evidence the exaflood is coming . . . "

It said,

The findings indicate that by 2010 . . . users could increasingly encounter Internet "brownouts" or interruptions to the applications they've become accustomed to using on the internet.

We are mere weeks from 2010. There's no sign of The Exaflood or brownouts. In fact, the best data indicate that Internet growth appears to be slowing. In two short years, the Nemertes paper's main conclusion is falsified by the data.

Now Johna Till Johnson says, Hello Net Neutrality, Goodbye Internet. She says that Net Neutrality gives carriers

. . . just one option for recouping their costs: Charge by the bit.

Wow. Talk about false choices!

Maybe she's forgotten about "charge by the month," and "charge more for faster connections." How about "charge more for better service."

Maybe the poor carriers aren't making enough to build faster Internet connections. Verizon just made a paltry $6 billion in profits last year and paid $1.3 billion in dividends. AT&T made $12 billion and paid out $2.5 billion to shareholders. These companies need help, Johna. They're really suffering from too much government regulation to build a good Internet.

Johna Till Johnson's "Goodbye Internet" screed misses today's real Net Neutrality action, which is in wireless. The wireless NN action is not about big bandwidth at all. Quite the opposite. Spurred by FCC Chairman Genichowski's recent speech suggesting that wireless NN should be the law of the land, the discussion has shifted to whether wireless companies have the right to block competing low bandwidth apps like texting and telephony over IP. As Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett recently said in the Washington Post,

For wireless, the arbitrage risk comes from low bandwidth applications like Skype and Google Voice, but unfortunately for the voice business, almost all the revenue today comes from low bandwidth voice and data applications. So it's a risk that simply can't be managed by the adoption of usage-based pricing schemes.

So up to now, operators have managed that risk by simply prohibiting certain applications. In net neutral world, they wouldn't have that luxury.

Network Neutrality has never been about the idea of too much bandwidth on a limited network. That's dinosaur feces. It's always been about whether the telcos and cablecos could leverage ties between their network and certain apps to make discriminatory, anti-competitive profits.The strength of the Internet is that it accepts all traffic without a "will it make money" test. That's why a Pez dispenser collector could grow a hobbyist site into eBay. It's how two Stanford students could grow their thesis into Google. It's how an Israeli apps company that wanted to reduce its phone bill invented Internet telephony.Johna Till Johnson isn't just wrong this time, she has it exactly backwards; the reality is that if we ever say "Goodbye Net Neutrality" we'll also be saying, "Goodbye Internet."

By David Isenberg, Principal Prosultant(sm), isen.com, LLC
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Related topics: Broadband, Net Neutrality, Telecom
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The trouble with what you describe as dinosaur feces (and I agree) .. Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 03, 2009 5:27 AM PDT

... is that some of "net neutrality"'s loudest advocates seem to think that's the be all and end all of net neutrality. Oh well.

Did you read the actual report or Daniel Golding  –  Oct 06, 2009 11:09 AM PDT

Did you read the actual report or just the PR? The report itself was cautionary and predicated on several issues, such as widespread HD video over Internet adoption. The technical problems described exist and may be an issue in the near future. Competition and consolidation - free market forces - have helped to keep Internet congestion at bay, but ask any Internet architect at a major carrier - its a concern.

Network neutrality is a real cause for honest concern on the carrier side, and Nemertes is a bunch of smart folks who understand those concerns. Painting them as ignorant or as dishonest shills - which is what net neutrality advocates seem to do - is a big mistake. Read and understand their point-of-view, and maybe you can find some reasonable objections and help to craft some real workable proposals.

We're only in the first act on net neutrality Christopher Parente  –  Oct 06, 2009 1:43 PM PDT

Really good article in the New Republic on this issue, more the politics than the tech of course. Just read today, unfortunately no link up yet, will check back if/when I see it.

Jeffrey Rosen does talk about the added complications of extending net neutrality from cable MSOs to wireless companies. It will be a long and drawn out battle.

It's amusing to see "cheerleaders" for onerous Brett Glass  –  Oct 07, 2009 11:19 AM PDT

It's amusing to see "cheerleaders" for onerous "network neutrality" regulation talk about a fabricated crisis when in fact they are fabricating one of their own — as a political ploy — to get regulation enacted for their corporate masters. And lately, they're like millennialists who, when the world doesn't end, push back the date and start preaching anew. They've been predicting doom and gloom, if innovation-killing legislation and regulation are not enacted, since 2004 — and still the Internet continues to grow and flourish.

There really are network capacity issues (witness, for example, the very real congestion which iPhones are causing on AT&T;'s cell sites). And "network neutrality" regulation would make those problems worse, not better.

The lobbyists for "network neutrality" regulation make it out to be a matter of freedom, motherhood, and apple pie. But the truth of the matter is that there is no problem to solve; in the US (where these regulations would have effect) the Internet is not being censored or blocked. And if an ISP did so, its customers would switch in a New York minute.

So, why all the lobbying for regulation to "solve" a nonexistent "problem?" Because — along with assurances that we will get what we have already and are in no danger of losing — the regulations contain provisions that would favor certain large corporations with big lobbying money. (First and foremost of these is Google, which is funding the majority of the "network neutrality" lobbying in DC.) These provisions would actually hinder the rollout of broadband in our country (which IS an important goal). They'd also increase the cost of broadband service, limit consumer choice, kill innovation in both engineering and business models, and even make certain services that businesses — especially startups — might want or need unavailable. (The motive behind this seems to be to prevent another company from arising to compete with Google. For example, a newcomer couldn't pay ISPs to accelerate delivery of its content to end users, and thus could not compete with Google's private fiber or network of private caches.)

Unfortunately, Google is so rich, and spreads so much money around, that it has bought lots of advocates — including some groups that claim to be "public interest" groups — for the regulation it wants.. For example, David Isenberg, the poster of the article above, receives sponsorship for a yearly conference which he operates from Google.

We must favor consumers and innovators — not the lobbyists — and make sure that onerous "network neutrality" regulations or legislation do not happen.

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