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Half the equation and half the definition

There is a lot of confusion over what constitutes Net Neutrality, so much so that parties fiercely on the opposite side of issues both claim to be for it. As an example,  the current controversy over Free Basics has been between Facebook, whose CEO penned an Op-Ed entitled "Free Basics protects net neutrality", and on the opposite side of it is a volunteer coalition, SaveTheInternet (STI), whose entire charter is to protect Net Neutrality. As the Op-Ed from the volunteers suggests, the basic contention between Facebook and the volunteers is a different definition of Net Neutrality. While the concept of Net Neutrality was coined by Tim Wu back in 2003, the definition of what constitutes Net Neutrality has been evolving. 

Let me walk you through the evolution of the definition that the STI coalition is going with, which is widely accepted and which I have arrived at after years of researching the issue. I will explain why Facebook (amongst countless others, they are not solely …

The business of ZeroRating

ZeroRating conversations are dominating Network Neutrality issues these days, whether it is the FreeBasics controversy in India, Binge On by T-Mobile, or Verizon's recent announcement of a plan similar to AT&T's sponsored data. Here are a few thoughts to consider about ZeroRating and why it makes no sense (to me).

If ISPs Zero Rate content, somebody has to pay for the bandwidth. Suppose the Content provider pays for it. Then there is a pricing problem:

ISPs cannot charge the content provider a price above the price they charge consumers. Suppose they charge consumers X per MB of data, and they charge content providers X+Y per MB of data. Then, for sufficient traffic where overheads are accounted for, it is cheaper for content providers to send recharge coupons back directly to the customers who used their services. Long term, pricing above the consumer price is not sustainable.ISPs cannot charge the content provider a price below the price they charge consumers. Suppose th…

The most important aspect of the new FCC proposal on Net Neutrality

So it has happened. FCC Chairman Wheeler has announced that he wants to bring broadband (both wired and wireless) under Title-II provisions. Network Neutrality advocates are ecstatic, hailing him as a hero. The fact sheet outlining the FCC proposals is available here.

I found myself initially disappointed, and thought that this might actually be a retrograde step for consumers. The reason for that was the Bright Line Rules that the FCC highlighted: no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization were not actual, real problems. ISPs don't block (that's the job of governments), ISPs do not explicitly throttle - there are sophisticated ways of achieving the same result and I don't know of any actual "paid prioritization" (i.e. QoS provided for specific content on routers/switches in exchange for money). The real problem is paid peering which does not come under the purview of the Bright Line Rules.

Additionally, the forbearance that has been explicitly stated…

My appearance on BBC World News discussing Net Neutrality

I appeared on the BBC World News program Global with Matthew Amroliwala on February 5th, 2015 and spoke about Net Neutrality and the new FCC proposals. I tried to make the point that Net Neutrality is a symptom and the real issue is (lack of) competition.
The clip below is courtesy the BBC.





We need an "AppleSim" for Wired Internet

Our work has long argued that competition is the key to an Open Internet, not Network Neutrality regulations. The introduction of AppleSim by Apple on their iPads is a very interesting and important development in that regard. As Apple says in their marketing literature:

So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you—with no long-term commitments Apple's market power (ironically) has ensured that they got 3 of the 4 top wireless carriers in the US to sign on as partners. If you are not happy with the service of a provider, you can easily switch.

Now imagine if a similar situation existed for wired Internet access for consumers. Everyone had the equivalent of an "AppleSim" at home. Say in the form of a router, that can easily connect to different wired Internet providers with the click of a button on a web page. You are not happy with Netflix speed by your provider FIOS? Fine - you switch to Comcast. Your ISP blocks Skype video calls? Fine - swit…

Our response to FCC's NPRM on Open Internet (14-28)

The following is the detailed response we have submitted to the FCC on it's NPRM 14-28 Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet (aka Net Neutrality proposals).

Response to the FCC NPRM on Open Internet prepared by Richard Ma (tbma@comp.nus.edu.sg) and Vishal Misra (misra@cs.columbia.edu) 1.Para. 1: From the first sentence, the proposed rulemaking emphasizes “broadband investment and deployment”. It seems that the scope is really limited to broadband or eyeball ISPs. We want to emphasize that the net neutrality issues are not limited to broadband. Many core issues are involved with transit ISP and content providers as well. When it mentions “open”, does it mean “neutral”? If it is not “open”, is the current Internet “closed”? It seems that “open” is not well-defined. We comment that “open” should be defined more clearly. 2.Para. 2: “What is the right public policy to ensure that the Internet remains open?” Again, to answer this question, we first need to be clear about the defini…