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May 01, 2017

Internet Fast Lanes

You may be surprised at who has them.

The Internet Association - lobbying organization for Internet giants like Google, Amazon and Netflix – is adamant that it is necessary to apply of 1935 phone regulation (Title 2) to the Internet to assure that there are no premium “fast lanes”, that all bits are treated equally, that Internet access providers (ISPs) do not prioritize their own content over content from competitors.

Internet Association members sometimes say that they could actually afford to pay more for fast lanes but they are worried about the little guys, the startup, who may not be able to pay more and whose websites therefore won’t be as zippy as they need to be.  They’re worried about innovation. They’re worried about you.

In fact, however, the web giants like Google and Amazon have private networks which connect to the Internet in many locations. They have data caches (think of them as content warehouses) around the world. Their websites DO pop up faster than yours because their bits travel mostly on their private networks and avoid Internet backbone and interchange congestion. In other words, they have private fast lanes. You can't achieve this speed for your website unless you A) build a private network of your own (unlikely); B) host your website on Amazon or Google in which case they MAY share some of their private access network. I have hosted services on Amazon; they charge me more depending on how many locations I want my data served from. In other words, faster is more expensive on their network.

Conveniently these private fast lanes are specifically exempt from the 2015 FCC regulations which reclassified Basic Internet Access Service (BIAS) in a way which lets the FCC micromanage it and prohibit public “fast lanes”. The members of the Internet Association are “edge services” so unregulated.

From a technology PoV the ISPs could offer small customers premium transport which allows your site to compete better with Amazon. The 2015 regulations make that illegal. They protect Amazon and Google from competition both by you and by the ISPs – all in the name of “Net Neutrality”. Do you think this had anything to do with the fact that Google made a 180 degree switch? It lobbied for years to assure that the Internet was not treated like a telephone network. That was when telcos wanted regulation to protect themselves from competition. Now it’s the members of The Internet Association who would rather compete in the regulatory arena than in the marketplace.

It is true that Internet speeds are not what they could be, especially in rural areas. Part of that problem is that there relatively few Internet access providers.  But is there more concentration in Internet access than in search? I don’t think so. Should Google be regulated? No. But neither should they be able to use regulation to protect themselves from competition. Google correctly sees the ISPs as potential threats. They were once going to compete with them by offering Google Fiber. That would be good for all of us. But Google isn’t going to string fiber if it is cheaper to use regulation to protect themselves from competition.

The current regulations, which I think should be repealed, protect the members of the Internet Association from ISPs. Even more importantly, they protect the big Internet content providers, who own their own fast lanes, from the competition you might provide if you could rent a fast lane from an ISP when you’re still too small to have your own private network.

See also:

An Open Letter to My Friends at Google

Don’t Make the Internet Safe for Monopolies

Net Neutrality. What’s It All About?

Do you Want Comcast to Know Your Underwear Size?

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