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A net neutrality parable

I wrote this on the flight back from the Baku Internet Governance Forum of 2012, where we did serious damage to the ETNO campaign to introduce the “sending party network pays” principle into an international treaty document governing relations between telcos and companies such as Google (so-called OTTs). I make it a habit to try to understand the opposition. This was the result.

Once upon a time, there was a sleepy old railway company, serving a sleepy old town. The tracks were old, the rolling stock had been paid for, and the customers were regular. The money was not great, but neither was it bad. The engineers working for this company led a quiet life. They would occasionally talk about how good it would be to have new business and new investment, but that was just talk.

Then came change, in the form of big amusement park that attracted large numbers. The trains were now crammed full at peak times, and sometimes one could not even board the train. It was clear that major new investments would have to be made to accommodate the qualitatively higher traffic volumes and expectations. It was not in the interest of the amusement park to have grumpy customers who had been tortured by a sub-optimal transport system. It was definitely not in their interest to have their potential customers unable to make the journey at all.

The first reaction of the engineers running the trains was to seek government intervention in the form of compulsory levies and taxes and even actions to limit demand. The amusement park fought back. The battle continues.

Parallel to this confrontation, there were those on both sides who sought common ground. Could the “big data” capabilities of the amusement park, used for marketing and for smoothening the peaks and valleys of demand for its attractions, be mobilized to better manage the demand for the trains? Could the amusement park take over parts of the ticketing and reception interfaces (the stations) of the system? Could there be joint ventures?

Seemed it is appropriate now, in the context of the FCC promising to examine the Netflix deal with Comcast.

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