This is easier than trying on WhatsApp.


Network neutrality is based on common carriage which was aimed at preventing perverse discrimination by carriers such as railroads so they wouldn’t check your bank account and charge you by how much you could afford. Instead they had to offer standard pricing. More to the point two boxes of a commodity product would have the same price so railroads wouldn’t set the prices based on the contents of the container or play other games.


It doesn’t prevent levels of service like first and second class cars nor express trains. You can have frequent flyer programs and sell different classes of seats. You can sell a fast-burger. (Whether you should is a separate question – income inequality and all that). But you can’t charge two people different prices just because one is Asian and another African.


It also meant that you can’t charge differently based on the kind of phone call though you could offer business vs. residential pricing. But you couldn’t force someone to pay the price for a business line even if you were using it for business.


It makes sense to apply this to transport of commodity packets. If all the packets are the same they should be treated the same. In fact you wouldn’t even network neutrality policies if all the transport saw ere commodity packets because there wouldn’t be the means of differential pricing.


The problem is we currently have entangled telecommunications policy with connectivity (AKA Internet) policy so the carriers to have “pipes” which maintain the relationships through the network and complex peering arrangements. The idea that a provides own cable content is example from caps when it’s in broadcast mode is just one example of a problem not well addressed by neutrality. We also have the problem of the claim that the Internet only works because of protocols like MPLS and other very smart protocols in the network. Another implicit problem with neutrality is taking into account the willingness to invest in facilities and capacity. This is why I wrote because zero rating was a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself.


So while I applaud neutrality as a principle we need to recognize it is a temporary principle and not a long term strategy.  For those not familiar with US history we used to have a concept called “separate-but-equal” for education so you can have separate schools for some (typically non-white). In about 1956 the US Supreme Court recognized that it was a terrible idea and banned separate schools. I compare NN with separate-but-equal pipes. The problem is having pipes at all, not whether they are equal.


The solution is to completely separate the business of offering services from the business of providing infrastructure. And if we can no longer fund the infrastructure by selling services we need to pay for the infrastructure as such.


Let’s not trivialize these issues with high production quality videos that miss the point.

Bob Frankston