Thursday, 15 June 2006

Internet Neutrality

Being able to transmit any kind of content is important, to the well being of Internet as a whole and to eLearning in particular. If the US Telcos have their way, we can surely bet all innovation will NOT come from US anymore.

The need to lobby the US government to set up laws to make Internet packets both "content" and "source" aware is to protect the Telco's outdating business models. This has been explained clearly here.

Is Google, or any large content provider, really having a "free" ride? Absolutely NO! The issue is about Backbone interchange. Let me explain.

Most people, including me, is connected to the Internet via a "last-mile" provider (or an ISP). We pay a fee, either based on bandwidth, volume of traffic or both in order to get and send data packets. The ISP does not need to care whether the packets is incoming or outgoing except for billing purposes as long as the packets are delivered within their own network. There is NOT marginal cost for the ISP to carry these packets on their network. (Hence, in my opinion, it is fair to base the fee on a monthly flat rate depending on the "quality of service" rather than based on volume.) Of course, there is a huge investment upfront to build the network with the capacity to handle the traffic. Most of the fee we pay to the ISP is for paying back their initial investment and profit! If the demand is higher than the capacity, the network simply slows down! Remember those days when the Internet was *really* slow due to under capacity? Internet won't die under heavy load. The service level just drops and becomes unacceptable!

However, when a packet comes from a source *outside* my ISP's customer base or when I want to send a packet to someone outside my ISP's customer base, the packet needs to go to other ISP.

Carriers generally will have backbone interchange agreements with other carriers. What kind of deals are made, I don't know. I suppose they will negotiate hard in order to have the best profit for themselves.

If an ISP is stupid enough not to enter into any backbone interchange agreement, the customers will not be able to exchange data packets with those who are not within the network. I guess this ISP will die the next day due to lack of customers.

Now, back to the issue of "large" content provider. OK, Google may have its own backbone joining their data centers (Rumour has it that Google is actively buying dark fibre!) it still needs to enter into backbone interchange agreement with other Telcos. In a fair negotiation, the deal should be fair and Telcos should have covered their cost in the deal. Unless it is a win-win situation, there will be no deal anyway.

The need for Telcos to connect to Google's backbone is as much as Google needs to connect to other backbone. The network value is based on the number of nodes in the network!

Come on US Telcos, do you want to see your domestic traffic being routed to Korean before coming back to US because your US customers choose to connect to Korean's ISP for better experience and while you die from lack of customers? Do some studies to see how Telcos in countries with *real* competition managed to survive and posper, throw away your outdated business plan and participate in this new world. It is never too late! OK, your government may be stupid enough to pass those laws for you. It will just mean a slower and more painful dead!

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