Friday, December 15, 2017

Why I don't subscribe to the pizza metaphor of net neutrality

Mike Richardson posted a reference to the pizza metaphor of net neutrality. (Edit: Previous ink no longer works, so try The pizza metaphor of net neutrality)

I believe this analogy is part of the problem we are dealing with. If we think of "Internet Service Providers" (ISPs) as a flat service, then what I consider to be the core problems won't ever be able to be addressed.

The flat network discussions will continue to confuse more fiscal conservative or libertarian-minded politicians like Maxime Bernier into believing that removing Net Neutrality legislation is a reduction of government control, rather than removing the legislation amplifying the harmful impacts of other government interventions.

If you separate the physical layers (OSI model layers 1 through "2.5") from the various layers built over-the-top such as TCP/IP layers, then you get an entirely different picture.

Right-of-way is a government imposed limit on property rights used to put infrastructure (wires, fiber, sewers, roads, etc) above and below public and private property without needing to ask for permission or make payments to the property owners. This is a major government imposition that should come with strong conditions if allowed on behalf of private sector entities at all.

With analog services there might have been a temporary justification for granting this privilege to a tiny set of private sector entities (one in each jurisdiction for each of the most common specialty analog service: telephone and cable television), but with converged digital communications following the OSI layered approach this government intervention on behalf of private sector entities is no longer appropriate.  All the other municipal infrastructure requiring right-of-way, including wiring used for electrical distribution, is already public and we must recognise it is past time to end the communications exception.

Much of the physical communications infrastructure was already paid for or massively subsidized by taxpayers, and if we focused any new public money narrowly on the physical layer I believe this would reduce rather than increase overall government expenses.  Like road infrastructure, the physical infrastructure is what much of the economy is built on.  I believe it is inappropriate for a small number of private sector companies to have the ability to manipulate the economy and society through any manipulation of that infrastrucutre.

If the existing private sector entities don't like the idea of ending the communications exception, or claim it is an expropriation of their property, then governments can revoke the right-of-way privilege and see how long these companies last.  While they may think their cabling has value, I suspect the legal fees alone in trying to negotiate with all the land owners to pay rent would wipe out any theoretical value of this cabling.

It is only the physical layers that need strong government intervention. The services that are built on top of that, whether that be Internet transit or other over-the-top (layers 3+) services, would benefit from more competition -- not more regulation.

Switching ISPs should be as easy as choosing to go to one retailer or another, going to a friends house rather than a park, using UPS rather than FedEx or Canada Post, or choosing between any other competitive product or service.

If we had properly managed municipal physical layer infrastructure we could have individual devices in the home connecting to multiple different providers: Maybe Mom and Dad subscribe to a filter-free Internet service on their devices, while the devices the under-aged kids use connect to a specifically filtered service of their parents choosing.  "Television" devices would directly connect to multiple broadcast and content catalog services of the audiences choice, with what was previously called "cable TV" no longer being relevant for aggregation.  With a proper free market in OTT services there might even be a special service which "Internet of Things" devices can connect to for software updates and talking to specific servers that would still protect them from unauthorized access as they didn't need publicly routed "Internet" addresses at all -- not every homeowner should be expected to know how to manage the filters in a firewall, even if some homeowners should have the protected right to manage their own.

If your two-way voice service doesn't connect you to the correct pizza company, then you immediately switch to any of the large number of competitors who will provide the service you are demanding.  Market forces will quickly wipe out corrupt companies, with the only government intervention needed being number portability (addressing).  This pizza analogy only works if you stay within the old analog way of thinking that two-way voice service, previously called telephone, is a near-monopoly rather than having as many competitive options as there are choices for eating.

IPv4 and IPv6 should not be the only protocols being considered, and I believe that the municipal communications infrastructure shouldn't be imposing protocols or standing in the way of developing and deploying future protocols.  That is the role of private sector service providers, including ISPs which operate a layer 4 transit service.  Services at these layers should never be thought of as the same thing as the underlying physical infrastructure.

ISPs are providing a service similar to international shipping.  While international shipping is an important service, and a service that is appropriate to have common carriage (network neutrality) rules applied to it, we need to understand this as only one service among many and not equate ISP services with digital communications networks.  Common carriage doesn't apply to all road usage, and network neutrality shouldn't apply to all municipal data infrastructure usage.

I see Network Neutrality legislation as a temporary flawed answer to problems caused by governments allowing vertically integrated "retailers" to own the physical infrastructure.   While I strongly believe network neutrality legislation is a necessary evil, I still consider it evil and not something that should be confused as being a long-term solution.

No comments: