Should Operators be the only people feeling guilty about net neutrality? - Mobile World Live

Should Operators be the only people feeling guilty about net neutrality?

03 JUN 2010

The concept of Net Neutrality for Telecoms cannot be viewed in isolation ..

According to wikipedia: Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for user access networks participating in the Internet that advocates no restrictions by Internet Service Providers or governments on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as communication that unreasonably degrades other traffic.
For most people, this is a valid definition ..

However, putting this in content, Net neutrality originates in context of the Web/Internet. And today, ironically we find that the Web players are violating the net neutrality principles.

Here are some examples:

If Twitter is a platform, then Twitter should be agnostic of services i.e. in a purest sense, Twitter should let OTHERS create services on its platform and should itself focus on creating the ideal/agnostic platform. However, we find that increasingly Twitter is getting into the services game – for instance in its acquisition of Tweetie. NY times says(and I agree)

Twitter, which has flourished thanks to tools built by outside developers, is taking more of those tools under its own wing. In a move that is sure to rattle its developers, Twitter has agreed to acquire Atebits, the start-up that makes the Tweetie apps for using Twitter on Mac computers and iPhones. The acquisition price was not disclosed. This signals a new strategy, as Twitter makes its first foray into providing a mobile and desktop client itself. On Friday, Twitter also announced that it helped Research In Motion build an official Twitter app for BlackBerrys.

Also consider the Facebook-Zynga episode(Zynga is makers of Farmville based on Facebook ) and Zynga almost came close to leaving Facebook and now the two have a five year truce. The issue centers around Face book credits(facebook’s currency) which FB wanted to push upon the developers(of which Zynga is one). Gigaom says ..

By way of background, though Facebook and Zynga have had a mutually beneficial co-dependent relationship for the last couple years, it’s gotten ugly lately. Facebook wants to push forward with its own standardized currency — Facebook credits — within applications on its platform. It sprung this on app developers at a particularly bad time, just after reducing functionality for them to notify their users, resulting in significant active usage drops. And worse, Facebook is taking a 30 percent cut of all credits, just like Apple does on its iPhone platform, but without justifying such a large share by adding new functionality or marketing beyond what it’s long given away for free. App developers were particularly concerned that Facebook would, as it fully rolls out the credits program, require them to use it exclusively and disallow cheaper options like PayPal.

Commercially, the key observation is: while the innovators and early adopters might care two hoots about using an “official app”, it is the next wave of people that are the low-hanging fruit.

So, we see that the NET players are violating the net neutrality principles ..

Now, what are the implications for Telecoms?

  1. By net neutrality principles, any device should be able to connect to the network. The network should not discriminate against a specific device or a service
  2. However, in my view, that does not rule out tiered pricing. If we start with the proposition that the cellular network is not free i.e. it has value and if we agree to the idea that the network should not discriminate against a SPECIFIC application, then there is nothing which says that a network can have tiered pricing for ALL applications provided it is transparent to the customer. In other words, the idea of net neutrality needs to be separated from tiered pricing and this works as long as specific applications are not blocked and there is transparency for the customer
  3. What could this mean in a wider context for Telecoms? Consider that any device can attach to the network. That’s fine. But now, suppose the Operator sells a camera with a priceplan. The camera allows you to take video and pictures and upload them on ‘one click’ to the network. To do this of course, we need the network to be used. So, there needs to be a ‘policy management function’ on the camera which provides the network services for a fee. That may well be the SIM card but conceptually, such a policy management function could exist. Note that this is not to say that ALL cameras should have a SIM card. It is saying that the NETWORK OPERATOR could get in the business of selling connected cameras. Conceptually, this is the same as what Twitter and Facebook are doing
  4. There are other ways of course to handle the whole issue of data deluge which is also related to the whole subject. Example – Fixed line demise: Could we be wrong after all?
  5. One could argue that the net neutrality argument strictly applies to the packet level and not always to the service layer. This would put DPI (Deep packet inspection) under net neutrality scrutiny and that’s a valid argument

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