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Net Neutrality debate in the Big Apple

The New York Software Industry Association hosted a debate on the hot button “net neutrality

The New York Software Industry Association (NYSIA), the trade organization of the software industry in the New York City metropolitan area, hosted a debate on the hot button “net neutrality” issue at its monthly meeting in NYC last evening.

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Bruce Bernstein, NYSIA President, moderated the debate. Participants:

  • James L. Gattuso, Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation
  • Tim Karr, Campaign Director, Free Press
  • George Ou, Technical Director, TechRepublic

The debate began with each of the participants presenting a 5 minute pitch for their respective positions.

Tim Karr had the floor first and posed the rhetorical question “Does everyone understand what net neutrality is?” Although the question was of a rhetorical nature, a Karr supporter in the auditorium loudly volunteered his definition. Nevertheless, as a clear, precise presentation of what “net neutrality” is, is hard to come by, I awaited Karrr’s explanation. A “neutral” explanation, however, was not offered. Rather, an impassioned “expose” of an underhanded telecommunications industry was put forth. Loaded phraseology abounded--monopolies, discrimination, aggressive, myth, leverage--and the virtues of a beautiful, democratic Internet were extolled.

Next up, James Gattuso. Gattuso began his presentation with the rhetorical statement: Who can be against neutrality, suggesting that the issue is skewed from the get go (see my “What is neutral about “net neutrality?”). Befitting of his staid role of Research Fellow at a Washington DC think tank, Gattuso presented his case in a gentlemanly manner. Gattuso reflected on his trip to NYC from Washington DC in Amtrak “carriage class,” rather than via premium Accela service, to frame his position on the virtues of pricing mechanisms for the allocation of resources or, in other words, “you get what you pay for.”

George Ou, via audio feed from CNET headquarters in San Francisco, presented his overview without any rhetorical equivocations. Ou described himself, however, as a reluctant advocate, an engineer by trade drawn into the quagmire by a need to rebut gross misstatements on how the Internet functions. Ou’s straightforward engineering-based analysis of how service prioritization can enhance everyone’s Internet experience was interlaced, throughout the evening, with case study food-related analogies involving “Joe’s pizzeria” and “steak dinners.”

As all three of the participants’ positions are readily available online, here is a very brief synopsis:

Tim Karr, FreePress: Congress is pushing a law that would abandon the Internet's First Amendment -- a principle called Network Neutrality that prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work best for you -- based on what site pays them the most. If the public doesn't speak up now, our elected officials will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign.

James Gattuso, The Heritage Foundation: Proposed network neutrality rules would impose comprehensive, unnecessary, and harmful mandates on broadband networks. Such unnecessary mandates—the most extensive regulation of the Internet ever considered by Congress—would stymie the efficient use of scarce Internet capacity, discourage investment, and even threaten the growth of competition among broadband networks.

George Ou: Against overreaching government regulations that ban tiered pricing on enhanced services…since the FCC has already shown a willingness to stop ISPs from blocking Internet destinations and newer laws will add even stiffer fines, there is no need for additional Net neutrality provisions that completely ban tiered pricing on enhanced services.

While researching the issue, I came upon a Cisco Whitepaper posted at the “Center for Digital Democracy.” The Center posted the Cisco documentation to “reveal corporate plans for the broadband Internet,” with the solicitation: “See how “gold” or “bronze” services plans could affect your Web surfing.” Here is an excerpt of the Cisco Whitepaper:

Managing Abuse and Unanticipated Use of Current Service: Data throughput consumption is growing out of proportion to subscriber growth. Operators are experiencing strains in their local hybrid fiber-coaxial, regional, and backbone networks. Although data throughput use is growing rapidly on a per-subscriber basis, a small percentage of the subscriber base is directing that usage and skewing peak load requirements—as few as 20 percent of subscribers are using as much as 80 percent of the capacity in some networks. With the current “all-you-can-eat” product offering, operators are facing rapidly increasing infrastructure costs without being able to extract more revenue. For operators to be successful in the long term, they need to either control that usage or use it effectively for profit.

Here is an excerpt of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s open letter to Google users:

We're asking you to take action to protect Internet freedom…Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can't pay. Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Please call your representative (202-224-3121) and let your voice be heard.

The net neutrality issue stirs impassioned debate, and last evening’s Big Apple debate was no exception. Several times during the formal discussions, Jay Sulzberger literally rose from his seat in the audience to demand corrections, retractions, rebuttals…

DISCLOSURES: I am a member of NYSIA and a colleague of George Ou.