Cerf's call for simple pricing: Net Neutrality all over again

Summary:Vint Cerf, one of the co-inventors of the underlying technology that makes the Web work, now Google's Internet evangelist, has issued a call for throughput-based pricing by ISPs. This in response to the Comcast ruling by the FCC, which ordered the cable carrier to stop interfering with certain kinds of traffic, including P2P application data.

Vint Cerf, one of the co-inventors of the underlying technology that makes the Web work, now Google's Internet evangelist, has issued a call for throughput-based pricing by ISPs. This in response to the Comcast ruling by the FCC, which ordered the cable carrier to stop interfering with certain kinds of traffic, including P2P application data. Comcast has also floated the idea of charging more for users who transport larger volumes of data, an idea referred to as "consumption-based pricing," as another way to enforce data frugality on users.

Cerf correctly points out that consumption-based pricing is bad for everyone on the Net, except the carriers, who can profit more from their carriage services when they are taxed by so-called over-users of things like BitTorrent. A robust Internet economy needs no barriers or, better, locks, like those used to move boats, which shut off or curtails a service when it consumes too much bandwidth. He suggests:

Rather than a volume cap, I suggest the introduction of transmission rate caps, which would allow users to purchase access to the Internet at a given minimum data rate and be free to transfer data at at least up to that rate in any way they wish.

Others have suggested that users should be able to contract for a "floor" capacity and that they might possibly receive more capacity if it is available. One problem with charging for total bytes transferred (in either direction) is that users will have no reasonable way to estimate their monthly costs. Clicking on a link can take you to an unexpected streaming site or a major file transfer.

That means, in a nutshell, that I should be able to buy connectivity from my ISP at a specific level, let's say 6MBps, and use that 6MBps all day long every day, regardless of whether it is problematic to the carrier who sold it to me. The carrier's only business is to support the throughput they sell. Of course, they can and should manage their network, but it would be misrepresentation to sell a 6MBps service and deliver only 3MBps or to stop providing 6MBps throughput after the user sent more than any arbitrary amount of data, say 100GB of files. Cerf continues:

For example, a broadband provider should be able to prioritize packets that call for low latency (the period of time it takes for a packet to travel from Point A to Point B), but such prioritization should be applied across the board to all low latency traffic, not just particular application providers. Broadband carriers should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the market under the rubric of network management.

Cerf is saying "6MBps should be 6MBps," which is the Network Neutrality position I and others have advocated along with him all along. Last year my former ZD Net colleague George Ou and I had a long, ugly argument about this issue, at which time he said Cerf did not take this view.

Once again, Vint Cerf has taken the position that bits should not be monitored for data type, network service type or volume delivered, except with respect to the amount of throughput the customer pays to receive at any given moment during the day. That is the definition of Net Neutrality: Traffic is unencumbered except with regard the guaranteed bandwidth the customer has paid for, so that low-latency traffic falls to the lowest guaranteed speed that the customer paid for at their network endpoint.

How does that affect the typical ISP customer: As media migrates to Internet Protocol, IPTV services, for example, will operate based on the throughput available to each end user rather than having all IPTV traffic or one user's IPTV traffic slowed or stopped because they've watched too much video on the Web. Rather, everyone would get their full paid throughput whether they were watching IPTV or chatting via IM or playing World of Warcraft.

Cerf's approach does allow for someone to pay less to get a lower top-speed at busy times, but it doesn't allow the carrier to arbitrarily choke off any data stream at its whim. A deal is a deal, so to speak.

CNET's Marguerite Reardon misinterprets Cerf's idea as "Internet speed limits," which implies that the carriers can impose a limit, but like the German Autobahn, Cerf is suggesting that the left lane have no speed limit as long as you can pay for the speed. If I have paid for the Ferrari that can travel at 40MBps, then I should get 40MBps, regardless of what everyone else is paying for their speeds and the type of traffic I am sending over the network.

NOTE: I have corrected the error in the original version of the article, which said the FCC fined Comcast. It did not. Rather, the Republican Chairman of the FCC went out of his way to admonish the company publicly and held out the threat of fines, saying the FCC had sufficient power to enforce its decision, if Comcast did not comply in order to head off Democratic legislation which would increase regulatory oversight of telecommunications carriers. I apologize for the error, which was one of haste and not intentional.

Topics: Mobility, Browser, Networking

About

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran journalist, media executive and entrepreneur. He was editor of the ground-breaking Digital Media newsletter in the 1990s and a frequent contributor to ZDNet over the years. He led development of the first Web audio/video news network at ON24, sat on the board of Electric Classifieds Inc. and Match.com, and wor... Full Bio

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