2024-07-24 19:12:00
Vint Cerf and David Farber on net neutrality politics

Today the Center for American Progress hosted an event where Vint Cerf (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google) and David Farber (Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at the Carnegie Mellon University) clashed on the issue whether the US government should pass laws granting neutrality to the net, or just let service providers set up the rules and fees by which they would allow application and content providers use their broadband network.

For those who are into scoring things, the final result would have been Cerf winning the celebrity deathmatch if Farber would have not massacred himself with some pretty uncautious remarks well before the end of the show.

At first it seemed this need not happen. Vint Cerf was in a very delicate position in this debate being not only the one responsible for creating the end-to-end, application neutral architecture of the net, but also being on Google’s payroll, a company with heavy financial interest in this issue.

But he managed to balance his arguments. On one hand he argued against broadband providers to tax application and content providers because they were not able to come up with a viable business model based on charging the users of that network. He mentioned several examples from Europe and Asia where ISP’s were able to build high coverage broadband networks using revenues from the users, and proposed to help american ISP’s to think about similar models in the US. He also cited statistcics according to which only half of broadband subscribers have a choice from where they buy the broadband access.
On the other hand he argued vehemently for net neutrality as the only way to secure continuous innovation on the network.

Farber have not had any real counterarguments except for voicing the immanent fear of government intervention. For me, someone from Europe, or to be more exact from post-communist Central Europe it was not easy to understand the real weight and depth of this fear. Farber said that if we allow government to make rules on net neutrality, it will be a foot in the door, and other laws interfering with more and more online issues were down on that road.

He had three main points against the regulation: (1) existing control mechanisms are adequate to provide net neutrality, (2) the network was never a fair playground anyway, and (3) there is no sign of carriers behaving badly. Well, soon after that he had to admit that (1) even though the FCC, the FTC and the Dept. of Justice do provide adequate tools to curb unvanted ISP behaviour, the are anything but fast to do justice. (2) and (3) say nothing about possible future dangers of a non-neutral internet.

At the end the conclusion (at least for me) was that turning the internet into something like the cable business is plain wrong. Broandband providers defining which applications (VoIP, IPTV) and content from which countries, sources, providers can reach their customers gives power to carriers that are much more dangerous than a government move to reinstate a piace of regulation – that of the status of common carrier- that was there before, but it is not anymore because in “2005, the FCC reclassified DSL services as Information Services rather than Telecommunications Services, and replaced common carrier requirements with a set of four less-restrictive net neutrality principles”. (Wikipedia)
You can listen to the event here.

More to read on net neutrality:

Wikipedia has an excellent article on Network neutrality.

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