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Sandvine to FCC: Pay for Priority Won’t Work

Current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a former wireless industry lobbyist.

On Monday, Waterloo’s Sandvine (TSX:SVC) submitted comments to the FCC’s latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Open Internet.

The FCC has been on the hot seat this year because language from its Chairman, Tom Wheeler, sounded less like a guy who was prepared to defend open access to the internet and more like the former wireless industry lobbyist he is, by suggesting that tiered internet pricing schemes might work.

While Wheeler has since backtracked, many are concerned that the concept of Net Neutrality will be the victim, to unknown consequences. What is Net Neutrality? The term was coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, and refers to the idea that ISPs should treat all data equally for fear that the open, democratic nature of the web could be gradually led into a world of censorship and suffer from a lack of competition and a lack of access.

The New York Times today reported that the FCC’s electronic comment filing system has been inundated with more than three quarters-of-a-million comments, “…far more than for any previous rule-making proceeding before the Federal Communications Commission”. While many comments, notes the Times, are nothing more than “pithy one liners”, Sandvine’s document is decidedly more authoritative.

Sandvine, in a 13-page document report to the commission and dated July 14th, admits that much of the NPRM is focused on legal questions it says others are better prepared to address. But the company says its has significant real-world experience with the FCC’s notion of Commercially Reasonable Practices.

It is not hard to imagine the best efforts bandwidth shrinking quickly and those who paid for priority not receiving it because the prioritized section of the pie has been sliced too many times. If everybody has priority, nobody has priority.

Sandvine, which makes network policy control equipment and software that gives ISPs visibility to the traffic on their networks and creates service tiers that ensure internet traffic is properly billed says there are really two components to Net Nuetraility: how traffic is treated in the network and how traffic is charged. It says the first notion as well addressed by the second was not.

“Under the 2010 rules, it was very unclear to Sandvine what sorts of service plans may be acceptable. With its proposed “commercially reasonable” standard, is the new NPRM any clearer?”, asks the company. The Canadian company warns that Pay for Priority is a massive unknown, and could create unintended consequences.

“Sandvine has over 250 customers around the world. Despite the large customer base, we have not deployed any Pay for Priority plans, nor have our operator customers expressed significant interest in them. To the best of our knowledge, none of the innovative service plans that Sandvine has helped implement across our customer base have involved payments between operators and edge providers for traffic priority, nor (again to the best of our knowledge) have any negotiations or direct arrangements between the operator and an edge provider occurred in connection with such service plans.

Also, technically speaking, we don’t believe that Pay for Priority would work. At a moment in time, there is a fixed amount of bandwidth available to all applications, content, etc. on a given network. If one application has paid for more of that bandwidth (and this is how the priority is achieved) then there is less “best efforts” bandwidth remaining for all other applications and content. It’s a zero-sum game. Other applications and content providers will start paying for priority as well. It is not hard to imagine the best efforts bandwidth shrinking quickly and those who paid for priority not receiving it because the prioritized section of the pie has been sliced too many times. If everybody has priority, nobody has priority.

The FCC’s rules should be focused on protecting and encouraging the full breadth of “commercially reasonable” service plans, including those that are becoming very popular globally today. Sandvine has seen firsthand how innovative service plans have increased adoption of the Internet around the world, enhanced competition, and given consumers more (and more affordable) choice.”

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About The Author /

Nick Waddell
Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.

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