I was recently invited to participate in a workshop sponsored by the GIIC, an organization of telecom and technology executives who ponder large scale Internet and information infrastructure questions. The purpose of this workshop was to consider changes to the Internet infrastructure that would allow cost transparency, an upgrade to the Internet platform that could have wide ranging implications for the economic models that currently prevail online.
While that topic is worthy of exploration on its own, some of the many areas explored during this particular gathering were in matters of policy and the recently announced rulemaking proposal by the FCC towards a principle of network neutrality. And throughout the many discussions, it became apparent that those on the “market” side of this debate have a very difficult challenge ahead of them: How can they frame the debate in a way that doesn’t have them come across as online versions of Strom Thurmond? This is no small challenge given the basic issues of equality are wrapped into our national identity and any implications of inequality tug at the strings of that identity. So as a starter, I’d suggest attempts at branding users (customers) as bandwidth hogs will not yield a useful approach toward this end. Does society favor discrimination against those who over-eat? Even on an increasingly green political landscape, any definition of a “reasonable consumption level” is going to be, to say the very least, “sensitive”.
Some defensible ground remains in the areas of network congestion if one can stake out clear and reasonable technical arguments and actions defending those principles. Being the target of a great many technologies currently deployed to shape, block and throttle (i.e. discriminate) it would be easy for BitTorrent to assume the role of victim in our little analogy. I suspect there is a great deal of mileage to be had in this approach amid the fury of debate. But this isn’t our plan. Instead, we’ve spent considerable energy developing technologies in µTP to combat the underlying premise of discrimination, Internet congestion. And while it remains to be seen how the market will react to these developments, whether the DPI currently deployed will be modified to discriminate against µTP as well, there is an opportunity for one side of the debate to stand behind their principles and in so doing demonstrate the potential of self regulation to the benefit of all.