Tuesday, November 6, 2007

In Praise of Relatively Dumb Pipes

Comcast's furtive and undisclosed traffic manipulation reminds me of a curious, red herring asserted by some incumbent carriers and their sponsored researchers: that without complete freedom to vertically and horizontally integrate the carriers would lose synergies, efficiencies and be relegated to operating "dumb pipes." For example, see Adam Thierer, Are "Dumb Pipe" Mandates Smart Public Policy? Vertical Integration, Net Neutrality, and the Network Layers Model, 3 Journal on Telecommunications & High Technology Law 275 (2005)

Constructing and operating the pipes instead of creating the stuff that traverses them gets a bad rap. It may not be sexy, but it probably has less risk. But of course with less risk comes less reward, and suddenly no one in the telecommunications business is content with that. So incumbent carriers assert that convergence and competitive necessity requires them to add "value" to the pipes.

Put another way, they would assert that any limitation on a carrier's "right" to add value is an unconstitutional taking. Of course we used to have common carriers that operated as neutral conduits carrying the content produced by someone else, but apparently that is an anachronism now.

The dumb pipe argument comes across to me as disingenuous. Would anyone buy an argument from an electricity carrier that it should not have to provide a neutral conduit for the carriage of electricity? It would seem that everyone makes more money and has more fun using the electricity to make something more valuable than just carrying electrons.

So it appears with Comcast. Hellbent to cash in on convergence, or at least generate greater returns for its pipe investment, Comcast wants to operate a non-neutral network with all sorts of intelligent packet sniffers ready to prioritize or degrade traffic. And I thought consumers would beat a path to Comcast instead of Verizon, because Comcast offered faster and better service. Who would want that when they can have a smart pipeline whose genius owners stand ready to delay and drop packets according to some secret and real smart plan?

1 comment:

berto said...

Such a nice blog. I hope you will create another post like this.