The Return of Unreasonable Net Neutrality Demands

January 29, 2009

GigaOm’s instant and harsh condemnation of Cox’s new congestion management trials shows how unreasonable many net neutrality activists continue to be. 

Mr. Malik indignantly asserts: “Who is Cox to decide that a certain FTP transfer is not time sensitive, or that some software update is not time sensitive


  • Cox is a competitive Internet Service Provider which serves customers who voluntarily contract with Cox to deliver Internet access with quality of service for a monthly fee. 
  • Cox is a competitor in the country with the most competitive broadband market in the world by far, and a competitor which will lose its customers if they do not satisfy their expectations and demands.
  • Cox is the owner of its competitive private broadband network, which it built with private capital.
  • Cox is a broadband network with naturally intermittent network congestion problems; and Cox is responsibly trying to manage its network to ensure quality of service for all its customers.   
  • Cox is an ISP, which under the FCC Broadband Policy statement can engage in “reasonable network network management.”
  • Cox is a company making a good faith effort to:
    • Publicly disclose its congestion management trials approach;
    • Notify its customers in advance; and
    • Be upfront that this is a dynamic process, where depending on what is learned in the trials, they may need to modify their approach or policies again.   

Mr. Malik’s question that Cox has no right to do what it is doing or that this is “just another incumbent behaving badly” shows how unreasonable many net neutrality activists remain in their demands.

  • These extreme and unreasonable views are why net neutrality remains a fringe political issue — way outside the political mainstream of America.

Why are Mr. Malik’s hard-line net neutrality views so unreasonable?

First, most people find it perfectly reasonable to prioritize delivery of packages or data packets on a time sensitivity basis.

  • People appreciate that their mail is prioritized, by next day, two-day, priority, regular, bulk etc. — based on how time sensitive it is.
  • People also appreciate that the passing lane exists on the highway for those who are more in a hurry than others and they also appreciate that there are many other traffic managment tools to ensure that the road system does not get so congested they gridlock.
  • People appreciate that those who have more urgent needs of most any kind, are routinely scheduled ahead of those whose needs are not as urgent.  
  • This net neutrality obsession that Internet traffic is basically the only thing in the world that cannot, or should not, be prioritized based on urgency/time sensitivity — is unreasonable by most any reasonable measure.

Second, the core belief hidden behind Mr. Malik’s indignance, and the indignance of other net neutrality extremists, is that the Internet is, or should be, mandated by law to be like a public commons — where the IP end-to-end network design principle is required by law, and all networks are required to be “dumb pipes” — prohibited from any interference of bits as a result of smart network management.

  • It is completely unreasonable for Mr. Malik and other net neutrality extremists to expect  ISPs to operate as if the Internet was a publicly-owned commons — as the law of the land — when it is clearly not the law of the land.
    • The law of the land is market driven competition per the 1996 Telecom Act, a market driven view echoed by President Obama in his recent inaugural speech: “Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched…
    • Moreover, for over thirteen years, the bipartisan and successful Internet policy of the United States has been: “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet… unfettered by Federal or State regulation.” 

Bottom line:

What is reasonable about advocating for strict monopoly regulation of a competitive market, when…

  • that regulation would block broadband investment, impede economic growth and degrade job creation…
  • in one of the only healthy sectors of the economy…
  • during one of the worst economic recessions in sixty years?

Isn’t it reasonable to ask people to supplement their narrow virtual world perspective with a little real world perspective about the economy…


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