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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ID cards RIP.... tiered/non-neutral Internet next in line?

For the past few months, I've been pretty trenchant in my views around the "Net Neutrality" debate, along with the larger carriers' attempts to block or monetise competing services' traffic using deep packet inspection (DPI).

The techno-libertarian in me cries "foul", and worries that all this will stifle innovation from the type of "two guys in a garage in Palo Alto or Bangalore" operation that has hitherto been much more successful at generating killer apps for the Internet (Google, Yahoo, Skype, Hotmail, HotOrNot etc etc).

However, the pragmatist in me has been saying "Who cares about the legislation when the whole stupid idea won't work anyway?". There are so many flaw, work-arounds, ill-thought out approaches, legal risks, opportunities for customer disloyalty and churn that it doesn't stand a chance of occuring. Better, the more idiotic attempts to monetise "pipes" may backfire so badly that the operators concerned will lose more money, more customers and more credibility with observers & shareholders.

In fact, with clients and at conferences, I've regularly been comparing the notion of DPI/Internet-tiering with the UK Government's daft and draconian plans for an all-singing, all-dancing ID card for us hapless citizens. "Lousy idea, but I'm not too worked up about it, as it's doomed to fail anyway, just a shame I'll end up paying for the failure through my taxes".

But, miracle of miracles, it now looks like the UK Home Office has woken up to the fact that it's facing an impossible task, and is on the verge of fudging / postponing / cancelling it.

How long before the more aggressive operators (especially in the US) also start backing down in the face of the impossible task of picking a fight with Google & Yahoo? Or realise what might happen if they block some innovative corporate customer's P2P app, or a clever way of using VoIP for emergency services, or one of their roaming partners' new services, or whatever?

I've already spoken to quite a few product vendors whose pitch has shifted from "Block Skype! Charge Google! Kill all peer-to-peer!" to the much softer "Limit/throttle any person using an app which consumes disproportionate amounts of network resource".

Come on, telecom operators - there's still time to put out a face-saving "it's under review" press release before you commit your shareholders to the bottomless pit of "policy management".....

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