Broadband providers could win net neutrality debate

29 Jun 2007

Regulation around the thorny issue of net neutrality is more likely to be decided in favour of broadband providers than proponents of neutrality like Google, analyst IDC has predicted.

While the debate rages in the US, its outcome could shape the future internet experience for the rest of the world.

Net neutrality advocates have warned that broadband providers could use their power over the “last mile” to block services they don’t favour and also discriminate between content providers. This could also lead to a tiered service model imposed by broadband providers that would see providers profit from their control of infrastructure.

Internet players like Google have been staunch opponents of any moves to curb the freedom of movement on the internet. Internet protocol co-inventor Vint Cerf is a proponent of neutrality.

Two years ago Cerf wrote in his official Google blog : “The internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. A lightweight but enforceable neutrality rule is needed to ensure that the internet continues to thrive.”

IDC said that core to the net neutrality debate is the issue of control and monetisation of broadband networks by facilities-based broadband providers.

Led by an explosion in internet video, IDC forecasts that the US consumer internet-generated IP traffic is going to be three times heavier in 2011 than it is today.

Matt Davis, director of IDC’s Consumer Multiplay Services programme, said the magnitude of this growth of IP traffic signals an obvious and critical need for broadband network upgrades.

Davis said aggressive versions of net neutrality regulation would have a dampening effect on this upgrading effort as facilities-based providers would be prevented from architecting their networks to offer new services that require higher speeds or quality of service.

In IDC’s opinion, net neutrality proponents like Google will realise that quality of service is essential to the delivery of new services and quietly modify their position and join the network prioritisation environment they now oppose.

“Google will likely maintain a public-facing resistance to network control in the short term, but should be making behind the scenes plans to act quickly when the matter is settled and the opportunity materialises,” suggested Davis.

“Being caught flat-footed when a game-changing development occurs makes disruption from smaller, hungrier players willing to deal with facilities-based providers much more likely,” Davis warned.

By John Kennedy