Q&A with OpenDNS: We're being blocked, FCC should act on net neutrality
As the Federal Communications Commission grapples with the timing of a net neutrality vote and Republican lawmakers demand the agency drop it, companies like OpenDNS fear the issue is getting mired in politics.
And that could crush startups like them, says OpenDNS founder David Ulevitch. He says the San Francisco domain name service is already being blocked by Verizon Wireless. He fears other Internet service providers trying to compete with it could do the same. update: A Verizon Wireless spokeswoman said Monday its network engineers "see no issue from our end" and that the service isn't being blocked.
Since it launched with a couple million dollars in angel investment four years ago, OpenDNS has attracted 20 million customers – consumers and businesses such as Staples, Century 21 and Fuji Film – who prefer the service’s domain name look-up service to that of their Internet service provider. Why? Ulevitch says the company is able to more quickly translate Web page addresses like www.washingtonpost.com to The Post’s IP address to serve up sites to users. Its fail rate is zero, compared with ISPs, he says. Check out a review of OpenDNS by the New York Times’ David Pogue for more details on how the service works.
Turns out, Ulevitch said in a recent phone interview, that carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Comcast and Time Warner cable have caught on to the value of their service. Open DNS is able to collect a lot of data about users and their Web surfing habits to serve up targeted ads for users who volunteer to have that information tracked.
The FCC won’t say what its plans are for net neutrality. Many analysts and experts outside the agency are betting on a vote in December. Even if FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski puts the proposed regulation on its agenda next month, the agency has to grapple with its questionable authority over broadband providers.
“There are some cable and phone companies out there that want to decide which apps you should get on your phone, which Internet sites you should look at, and what online videos you can download," a FCC official said in a statement after Republican House members criticized a proposal by Genachowski. "That’s regulating the Internet and that’s what the FCC is trying to stop.”
Here’s an edited interview with Ulevitch for one startup’s view of net neutrality:
Q: Look, net neutrality is just not popular right now in Washington. And ISPs are saying it’s a jobs killer. Do you think you’ve got a shot at a regulation in this Congress?
A: The main point is that we’ve created a massive economy built on the Internet. Fifteen years ago, the Nasdaq had like 12 high-tech companies. Now there are like 6,000 on the stock exchange. We create massive economic value.
Q: Why do you have a dog in this fight?
A: We just want a level playing field. Verizon Wireless is blocking us and there are reports that ISPs want to block OpenDNS. They don’t want third party domain name services.
Q: Why would they do this?
A: We have 20 million users, it’s free (for consumers) and we are making money. We serve search results and ads like Yahoo or Google to people who have opted in and chosen to use my service. So we monetize traffic that way. The ISPs see this as all this revenue they are leaving on the table that they believe belongs to them. I don’t know why they think so because it doesn’t belong to them.
Q: But why wouldn’t it belong to them, if they are providing domain name looks up for their subscribers?
A: Because the browser doesn’t belong to any service provider. But ISPs operate differently. Corporations and individuals are at the edge of the network and ISPs operate at the middle of the network and it would be inappropriate for them to make policy decisions at the edge of the network.
Q: Who else are you competing against?
A: We sit in an interesting place. Google has a Web browser and what they have done in Chrome is to take the address bar traffic back. If people use Chrome, we make less money on our service and that’s find by us because that is fair competition. I wouldn’t put Google on a pedestal for competition but they aren’t telling users not to use OpenDNS.
Q: What are ISPs doing today?
A: They do not want to see DNS traffic, queries and data streams leaving them. In the way we have monetized domain name services, they want to do what we do. But they aren't an opt-in service like we are, and they can also block us, which is what we are concerned about.
And they try to block us in crafty ways. There was a report of an ISP working group whose members said that for "security" reasons, they should block alternative DNS services.
| November 22, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: FCC, Net Neutrality, Verizon
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