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net-neutrality

2010-08-03

I felt the need to write a post on net-neutrality in Hungarian, then I figured the result could be submitted to the EU Net-neutrality consultation. This is a first draft, i still don't have anything in Hungarian though...

Summary

  1. Net-neutrality is a business-term for a technological concept
  2. Regulate ISPs to adhere to the end-to-end principle.
  3. Break up vertical monopolies.
  4. Enforce 'mere conduit' provision of the E-commerce directive.
  5. Empower non-commercial, libre and public ISPs, assign 33% of the Digital Dividend for this purpose.

End-to-End principle

End-to-end principleNet-neutrality is business terminology for a fundamentally technical concept, the so called End-to-end principle.

The Internet is based on multiple layers of various protocols. The user interacts with the top layer, which passes the data down to the next layer. At the bottom of stack there is some physical medium, like a cable or a radio wave (essentially the ISP). On the receiving side a similar stack of protocols handles the data from bottom to top until it reaches the user on the other end. The layers have no knowledge of the data being passed from above and do not alter it in any way. Each layer is directly addressing the matching layer on the other end. Processing happens at the communicating parties ends, not in-transit, hence the name.

This End-to-end principle decentralizes the intelligence in the network. Telecom companies coming from a classical telephony background are used to having the intelligence of the network under their control, at the "center". On the Internet however, the intelligence is at the edges - at the clients - while the network is mostly dumb. ISPs are just one of the lower layers in this stack. Thus, any kind of content sent through an ISP should be processed regardless of the source, destination or data making it up. That is the end-to-end principle and this is also what is now being relabeled as network neutrality.

It is imperative to oblige infrastructure providers to adhere to the end-to-end principle and handle all data without prejudice.

Competition

The root cause of this discussion is a two-fold competition and fundamental rights issue.

First the offering of both infrastructure and content by the same business entity raises anti-trust concerns, this creates incentives to discriminate against 3rd party content. Extreme examples of discrimination even completely ban VoIP (Internet telephony) offerings or access to legal and alternative audio and video content. This behaviour is also a violation of the end-to-end principle, where the content sent should be handled by the lower layered network infrastructure without prejudice.

The network neutrality consultation must find long term solutions to the underlying root cause. The separation of content from infrastructure providers (e.g. like triple-play where Internet, TV and telephony is bundled) clearly calls for market separation.

Fundamental Rights

The second reason for the net-neutrality debate goes further than limiting access, it endangers fundamental rights. The copyright industry cannot cope with the changing business environment and tries to push ISPs to filtering and automatic blocking of access for wide portions of the population. In some member states this has been ruled unconstitutional on a national level. Essential parts of everyday life (from traffic information, banking to interaction with public services) depend on the access to a free Internet. The right to Internet access is already a fundamental right in Finland.

It is important to enforce the 'mere conduit' provision of the E-commerce directive, where network operators have no legal liability for traffic conveyed by them. This is a vital provision for the end-to-end principle, otherwise human rights need to be sacrificed, privacy invasive filtering and free-speech impeding blocking would become collateral damage while violating the end-to-end principle once more. Introduction of 3rd party liability for ISPs - which would induce ISPs to voluntarily adopt filtering and blocking measures - is a contradiction to the E-commerce directive and must be prohibited. The interests of a vocal, but otherwise small industry cannot overrule fundamental human rights.

Digital Dividend

In order to ensure a balanced neutral infrastructure, it must be possible to provide non-commercial libre public internet access. Community networks must be able to provide last-mile services. The Digital Dividend provides ample possibilities to assign at least a third of the analog television spectrum for non-commercial libre public ISPs, initiatives like the Openspectrum initiative must be empowered to create prospering public non-commercial ISPs that increase competition and investment in infrastructure.

Conclusion

While commercial and public interests collide, it is important to note that the short-term business interests are in no relation to the long-term societal benefits that this debate is trying to reverse.

feel free to comment via email.

thx: to pettter, lillmacho and Twelve from Telecomix.

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