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The net-neutrality debate continues

In lieu of actual news breaking on this topic, people will still talk about what the government should -- or should not -- do to stop Internet providers from favoring some online applications and discouraging or disabling others.

Surprise: Not everybody agrees with me.

On Monday, Digital Society writer George Ou took issue with my most recent column critiquing Google and Verizon's joint net-neutrality proposal.

In his post, titled "The delusions of wireless Net Neutrality," Ou argues that wireless-broadband services are, in fact, more vulnerable to interference by ill-behaved applications (for example, Netflix streaming and BitTorrent file sharing) and that wireless networks cannot hope to compete with wired ones in terms of capacity or robustness.

Ou does not, however, discuss whether application-neutral restrictions (to steal a line from the mission statement of his generally pro-business think tank, "regulate the harm, not the technology") could adequately police abusive Internet services. Nor does he explain why Verizon Wireless would have outbid other carriers for the right to use 4G wireless spectrum encumbered with network-neutrality obligations that he seems to think render it unworkable.

Then, on Thursday, The Post published an editorial agreeing with Google and Verizon's suggestions:

A better route would be legislative enactment of something like the Google-Verizon plan, with an emphasis on transparency about decisions that providers are making. Giving the FCC the authority to nudge things in the right direction will be a good first step. As the Internet evolves, the nature of needed oversight will evolve as well. Establishing a clearly limited power to take action against anti-competitive violations, rather than encumbering this vital sector with detailed and prescriptive regulation, is the sensible approach.

In case it isn't obvious, the editorial's writers wrote that without my input. That's how things work here and at other papers: The newsroom and the editorial board operate separately, to the extent that I can't even see their stories in our computer system.

So I don't know why the editorial does not mention the biggest loophole in the Google-Verizon proposal -- the idea that net-neutrality rules need not cover wireless access. Earlier editorials on net neutrality have been silent on this subject as well.

So what's the answer there? Are the likes of Ou correct to argue that wireless networks require more intrusive management? Should the Verizon-Google prescription for case-by-case oversight of wired access apply to wireless connections as well? Or should the FCC stick to its announced plan to apply a subset of the existing common-carrier rules to wired and wireless carriers alike?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 27, 2010; 12:27 PM ET
Categories:  Mobile , Policy and politics , Recommended reading , Telecom , The business we have chosen  
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Comments

>>Ou does not, however, discuss whether application-neutral restrictions (to steal a line from the mission statement of his generally pro-business think tank, "regulate the harm, not the technology") could adequately police abusive Internet services.

Maybe not in that piece, but Ou has written many times that the way to manage abusive applications is to prioritize them proportionally to their latency-sensitivity. VOIP and gaming apps should have high priority and large transfers low priority. VOIP and gaming have low bandwidth needs, so their high priority will not take any meaningful bandwidth from other programs, and lower priority won't meaningfully hurt the transfer speed of a GB of porn. Even most current video streaming is relatively low-bandwidth.

Posted by: lseltzer | August 27, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: freighter | August 27, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

@lseltzer
How is prioritizing users based on latency sensitivity supposed to work in practice? Who determines this sensitivity? Without a coherent way to make this determination, you've got nothing.

Posted by: slar | August 27, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

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