Vint Cerf backs net bandwidth management
Vint Cerf, one of the developers of TCP/IP and celebrated as one of the "fathers of the internet" has come out in favour of speed limits on the data highway in order to avoid traffic jams. In a net politics blog at his current employer Google, Cerf proposes limiting data transfer rates during peak use times. According to his recommendation users would, "pay for access to the internet at a prescribed minimum data transfer rate", explains Cerf. Users would then be able to transfer whatever content they wanted at least up to this bandwidth limit. Network capacity permitting, the data transfer could even take place more quickly.
His recommendation is similar to common fee structures available from providers, in which users pay a flat rate for a particular data transfer rate – 6 Mbps or 16 Mbps, for instance. However, these are maximum bandwidths; in reality, data transfer rates in daily use are usually slower than this. Unlike this system, Cerf is interested in guaranteeing a minimum bandwidth during peak use hours, and when there is less traffic on the data highway transfer rates could actually be higher.
This initiative, proposed by the leading search engine internet evangelist, was a reaction to a decision on Friday against Comcast by US regulatory authority the Federal Communications Commission, according to which the US cable network operator is no longer permitted to slow down individual services, such as file sharing protocols. Cerf shows sympathy with Comcast's argument when he writes that some kind of "network management" is needed.
Since capacity in the form of data transfer rates is a limiting factor in all communication networks, the broadband question today is not whether data traffic should be regulated, but what form this management should take. In that regard, Cerf feels that his vote for limiting transfer rates is a better approach than the return to volume-based rate structures, such as those currently being tested by network operators such as Time Warner Cable. Those schemes do not allow users to estimate their monthly costs accurately. With that approach to rates a false click on an unexpected streaming site, or a large data transfer could come with a hefty price tag.
Cerf has nothing against granting higher priority to speed the transfer of certain data packets with lower latency times, such as is required for video or voice applications. In those cases, it is important that individual linked bits and bytes get from point A to point B without any significant lag. But it is important to the internet pioneer that such priority is not simply granted for individual applications, "It should not be the responsibility of broadband providers to choose market winners and losers under the guise of network management."
In general Cerf, just like his employer, is an advocate of anchoring internet neutrality in law. "My company believes, like many others, that the internet should remain open and has to be accessible to everyone," he explained two years ago. Otherwise, antitrust regulation would be needed. In the battle over network neutrality, the large US broadband providers and some of the European providers want content providers to pony up the cash to help them expand their high-speed networks and provide fast data transfer rates. They want their backbones to have the ability to treat different types of data traffic differently, regardless of source, service, or bandwidth requirement.
Initiatives to legally regulate net neutrality have always failed so far in Congress. In the light of what he considered to be a blow to Comcast from the FCC, a leading advocate of this type of legislation, Democratic Representative Ed Markey, announced that for the time being he would not introduce a new initiative to the legislature. Instead, he emphasised that the regulatory authority's decision sent a "strong signal to cable and telecommunications companies", that the practice of violating the principle of an open internet would not be tolerated. He hoped that continued cooperation with the FCC would keep the net free of discrimination.
Mitch Bainwol, Chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on the other hand warned the FCC against heading down the wrong path. If network operators were no longer permitted to influence traffic volume, they would have to look for other options. In the view of his music industry lobbying organisation, this forced the broadband providers to introduce volume-based pricing schemes. But that would be the worst possible option for all content and applications providers.