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Open network architectures drove innovation, not net neutrality

Just when I was about to enjoy an evening with Nicole Beharie … okay, enjoy an evening watching Nicole Beharie on “Sleepy Hollow“, I get a tweet strongly suggesting that net neutrality drives innovation.  At my advanced age I’m learning to take deep breaths before going ballistic, and the five or six people (hopefully they are people and not spammers) who follow me know that when a net neutrality proponent mumbles anything resembling support for that most intrusive of broadband policies, well, you may as well drop chum in the water and call me Bruce the Shark.

I responded to the tweeter (whose only saving grace was that he is a libertarian … go figure) was that open network architecture, not net neutrality, drove innovation.  An open network architecture as defined on Webopedia.com is:

“An architecture whose specifications are public. This includes officially approved standards as well as privately designed architectures whose specifications are made public by the designers. The opposite of open is closed or proprietary.

The great advantage of open architectures is that anyone can design add-on products for it. By making an architecture public, however, a manufacturer allows others to duplicate its product. Linux, for example, is considered open architecture because its source code is available to the public for free. In contrast, DOS, Windows, and the Macintosh architecture and operating system have been predominantly closed.”

While open network architecture speaks to standards of design for apps and operating systems of the internet, net neutrality speaks to the behavior of the broadband provider.  The Federal Communications Commission’s rules contain three major components of net neutrality:

  • Transparency. Broadband providers must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and the commercial terms of their broadband services.
  • No blocking. Fixed broadband providers (such as DSL, cable modem, or fixed wireless providers) may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.
  • No unreasonable discrimination. Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Unreasonable discrimination of network traffic could take the form of particular services or websites appearing slower or degraded in quality.

Net neutrality, with its emphasis on restricting behavior, cannot be argued to drive innovation.  Entrepreneurs seeking to innovate their product don’ t turn to government rules for inspiration and encouragement.  Net neutrality proponents seem to take that view of government regulation; asserting government’s influence on technology development without providing one iota of evidence supporting that view.

We can all agree that the ability of application developers to test and deploy their products have given us Mozilla, Skype, Tweetdeck, and a million other applications.  Imagine, however, if someone came along and said we can’t have high-occupancy vehicle lanes or if you are in the regular lane with three people in your car, an HOV lane cannot be made available to you.  Those types of restrictions would see automobile designers (akin to app developers) building only three-wheel motorized scooters that can seat only one person and hit 40 miles per hour.

That’s not innovation.

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There is more to Idaho than potatoes and Debbie Austin

My son and I are apparently keeping up with some of the Joneses.  Yesterday his mother came into town to visit him and presented him with a smartphone.  Yes, a smartphone.  The old man is still in 3G la la land having upgraded from a 2G flip phone back in November 2011. (I’m still smartin’ from having my chops busted by Dr. Nicol Turner Lee for having the audacity to carry a 2G flip phone in public a couple years back).  Anyway, with two cell phones in the house and no wireline, the Chuckster and I are firmly a part of the unit of analysis evaluated by Pew Research and the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for determining the number of households that have snipped the cord at home and rely completely on wireless access to communications services.

According to a study by the CDC, 52.3% of adults in Idaho live in households that do not have  a wire line but have at least one wireless phone.  On the lower end, 19.4% of adults in New Jersey live in households that do not have a wire line but have gone the wireless-only way.  In my home state of Georgia, that percentage is 37% while Maryland comes in at 29.4%.

A closer look at the urban areas of Georgia and Maryland show that the percentage of adults that have opted for wireless only households is higher.  DeKalb County and Fulton County Georgia show 41.8% of adults living in households where there is a wireless phone only while the rest of the Peach State is at 36%.  In Maryland, Baltimore City comes in at 39.6% while the rest of the state registers at 27.6% of adults living in wireless only households.

If you have a penchant for old school, legacy land line usage then New Jersey is the state you want to be in, according to a Pew Research study, with 78.9% of households in Tony Soprano land have at least one land line.

Age and wealth have a bearing on whether a household cuts the cord, according to Pew.  Citing additional CDC research, Pew concluded that:

“The wireless-only lifestyle is especially predominant among the poor and the young. According to the CDC, nearly two-thirds (65.6%) of adults ages 25-29 lived in households with only wireless phones, as did three-in-five (59.9%) 30- to 34-year-olds and a majority (54.3%) of adults ages 18-24. A majority of adults living in poverty (54.7%) lived in a wireless-only household, versus 47.5% of what the CDC calls the “near-poor” and 35.3% of non-poor adults; wireless-only households also predominate among Hispanics, renters and adults living with roommates.”

Policy wise this tells me that regulators should not force broadband providers like AT&T and Verizon to continue putting resources toward maintaining old copper networks.  The country, whether for aesthetics, convenience, or financial reasons, showing its preference for mobility and regulations that go against this grain only encourages inefficiencies in resource allocation.

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Section 214: Is it slowing down IP network deployment?

AT&T filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission asking the regulatory body to waive a requirement under section 214 of the Communications Act for a carrier to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity any time the carrier discontinues a service. Specifically, a wireless carrier that abandons a time-division multiplex wired network and transitions to an Internet Protocol enabled network would have to get a CPCN every time it does no. This requirement would entail a delay in moving to digital services, a policy the FCC has given lip service to.

AT&T is concerned, and rightfully so, that the 214 requirement will keep the company and other incumbent local exchange companies tethered to an old legacy network that does not provide the innovative services provided by an IP network. In addition, as more consumers leave the old public switched network choosing to have voice services provided by cable digital networks, voice over Internet protocol, or wireless networks, the average costs for serving consumers still stuck on the PSTN goes up. Combine that with universal support moving from the PSTN to wireless networks, and ILECs find themselves with fewer resources to innovate with.

I can understand requiring a certificate to provide service be obtained by a new entrant, but it is not reasonable to require an incumbent to get a new certificate to provide services when it has not even left a market. The FCC should approve AT&T’s petition.

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Cuomo wants to maintain hands off the internet

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to a piece in The Albany Times-Union, wants to make it clear in a budget provision that New York does not want to regulate voice over internet services (VoIP).

This is heartening coming from the state’s former attorney general. The position is reportedly not as heartening for consumer groups who believe that a lack of VoIP oversight may lead to increased consumer prices.

I’ve always thought of VoIP as an add-on service. You’ve seen the Vonage advertisements offering a free adapter and service for $25 a month. All you need is a high-speed connection and you’re set.

It’s not a shabby price. What would be shabby, however, is if New York was to start regulating the simplest example of how our open architecture is supposed to be used. The adapter doesn’t harm the network. There are also plenty of alternatives for making local and international phone calls, from plain old telephone service to other broadband telephone providers to cell phones.

Stepping in with another layer of regulation just seems too unnecessary.