Thursday, January 27, 2011

Marriage of Facebook & Telcos - and why we need a National Public Internet (NPI)

[One of the most powerful features of the Internet was that it allowed anyone to establish a web page, or other type of content and make it instantly accessible to anyone in the world. Thanks to the early design of the Internet, specifically the end to end principlel, the smallest web portal, on the most distant point on the planet was on equal footing with the biggest content giants.

That model is now under serious threat by the oligopoly of telcos and cablecos
. As many of you may have seen recently in the press Facebook is making special arrangements with a number of cell phone companies to offer free access to Facebook. Many cell phone companies are also offering special data packages that only include access to Facebook and Twitter. As well once again, as documented in the AT Kearney report, the monopolistic service providers are demanding that the major content providers pay them for delivering content to the “telco’s” customers. Some argue these offerings have nothing to do with the Internet, and therefore do not violate any network neutrality regulations that may or may not exist. These developments are labeled as “innovation” which is a common telco/cableco euphemism for how to extract more monopoly rent from suppliers and customers.

I remain skeptical that regulation will prevent this type of “innovation” or that it should even try. That is why I have been long arguing that we need a National Public Internet (NPI) that is dedicated to the concept that the “Internet is for everyone” and not a small number of multi-billion dollar content companies or service providers. Much like National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting System (PBS) provide an alternate voice and independent perspective from the major commercial broadcasters whose culture highpoint is the Bachelor show, I think we need a Public Internet that adheres and embraces the basic principles that made the Internet such a powerful social tool.

R&E networks and community network initiatives such as UCAN and those funded by BTOP in the US I think can play an important facilitation role in making this vision of a NPI become a reality. While I fully concur that R&E networks need to remain focused on their primary mission of eInfrastructures, research and education is a universal requirement and is no longer restricted to physical laboratories, white coats, or brick and mortar ivory towers. Science research is increasingly becoming universal and mobile and must be accessible not only by scientists anywhere but by students and the public at large. eScience is not only transforming the way we do science but it is making it much more accessible to much a larger community. For many examples please see my blog on Citizen Science

R&E networks can play an important role in helping define the underlying architectures that will enable a low cost, broadly accessible NPI. The R&E networks revolutionized telecommunications industry when they demonstrated how cheap and easy it was to build your own optical Internet and thereby created a whole new commercial environment of user owned networks, innovative  business opportunities and increased competitive services. I think R&E networks are on the verge of creating another economic revolution based on the solutions they were originally designed to address the needs of eInfrastructures. Open exchanges, federated networks, wireless solutions, transit exchanges and zero carbon facilities are all part of this new vision. In my next blog I will be continuing to describe in detail some of the evolving technical aspects of a possible NPI architecture that leverages the leadership and infrastructure of R&E networks.

Let me stress, however, I am not advocating that R&E networks become competitors to the commercial service providers, or even provide default Internet transit service to homes or business – which is way outside their core mission. Instead I believe a NPI architecture must adhere to the founding principles of the Internet – which is a federated network of networks where users can peer and exchange traffic at open exchanges with any number of service providers – of which one might be a local R&E network representing an aggregation of a global community of similarly committed service providers to ensure that science, culture and education remains accessible to the public and is not blocked by the information and service giants in their almighty pursuit of extracting profits from monopoly rent.

Steve Wolff, one of the great Internet pioneers, I think expressed this sentiment most eloquently in a recent talk he gave about the future of R&E networks in the USA “It is easier to hold a centrally-funded not-for-profit to its social obligations than to subvert the investor focus of a corporation”—BSA]

Additional pointers and background information:

Facebook announces *no data charges* mobile access thanks to "carrier deals" -

AT Kearney report that claims that internet will only be sustainable if the content guys are met with cost oriented charges for their data, so that they will stop freeriding on the European networks.

Obama Wants a Wireless Broadband Network for Everyone

Some thoughts on why broadband caps are a bad thing for innovation -

Daniel Geer:' A Time for Choosing': Essay that addresses whether or not we wish the Net to become balkanized in future.

UK and EU ditched #netneutrality. Are we surprised as what's happening now?

Some early concepts for a possible design for a NPI -

Green Internet Consultant. Practical solutions to reducing GHG emissions such as free broadband and electric highways.
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