Tech and Culture

ISPs dream about changing their “service provider” focus

Just came across this gem of a piece on the Internet. It appears that BellSouth, one of the biggest ISPs in North America, is now looking at increasing its revenue by forging deals with web companies that would allow the latter to pay a premium to get increased throughput/QoS on BellSouth’s network. The article has done a good job of non-objectively citing the bad effects of such a paradigm move.

I have mixed feelings about this proposal. On the outset, it sounds rather unnecessary to me. Why would a large scale network operator bother about such a deal when they could just as well deploy a high speed IP network that essentially guarantees unlimited bandwidth to every user and/or service. We all know that where there is bandwidth, there are users, so it seems naturally plausible that BellSouth wouldn’t be spending a lot of money on deploying a network that would only have optimal utilization during the peak times. Not to mention that hardware costs have fallen down drastically over the last 5 years.

We all know how the ATM networks fared. I am not going to get into a debate here, but it would suffice to say that ATM was a “dreamy” technology that never actually found its niche, except in low bandwidth ADSL networks. The telcos realized long ago that trying to mould voice capabilities into IP networks was a better strategy than vice versa, not to mention that the ATM networks still needed a bridge to other non-ATM networks in the form of a protocol, which is IP. ATM proponents couldn’t win their case for higher QoS to certain types of traffic in the face of better network management using a conventional network protocol like IP on typical packet networks.

Why then are the same telcos trying to FORCE a tiered service mechanism on an already capable and extendable technology? I think the true motivation is increased revenue potential from growing Internet media companies that are willing to spend any amount of capital to procure readers (contributors) to their websites. But then another question pops in my mind. How much of a throughput boost would a website really need to make me visit it more frequently than its rival? Clearly, even on current “equal opportunity” networks, it appears that we have identical performance from nearly every website.

Thus, it is clear that the main beneficiaries of such a model would be companies that provide packet latency-sensitive services like gaming, media streaming, or delay-sensitive communications. The example of loading slower than some other company’s website is hence uninformed, unless the provider actually does something to degrade Google’s throughput to the former’s subscribers. This would be shady on so many levels I can only imagine the lawsuits.

In essence, BellSouth wants to earn some kind of royalty from “Internet media companies” in lieu of carrying their “signals” over the network. Much like traditional pay-per-view on TV. Does this signify the gradual acceptance of the Internet as an evolved form of the conventional media outlets? I can see this being the trend, with more and more people looking at blogs for news and opinions, and also using the Internet to set up an interactive communication envelope around their lives. I have been foreseeing this interactive world for quite some time now, and now it seems entirely easily possible.

This brings me to the point where I wonder if it’s really right to question an ISPs decision to earn increased revenue in this manner. Personally, I feel there is no problem as long as the independant and “democratic” aspect of my Internet experience remains the same.

2 replies on “ISPs dream about changing their “service provider” focus”

I followed you over here from the comment you left on my blog. You’ve made some good points, but I think you give the telecoms too much credit. These are companies with dying business models, desperately looking for revenue anywhere they can get it. Whitacre of AT&T says that Google, Yahoo, etc should not get a “free ride”. This is not the language of a company trying to evolve a media to the next level, but one trying to feed off the cleverness of others.

I admit I’m not sure how they plan to achieve this premium network service, but i’m not sure that they do either. I believe they simply want to charge the big players more for the existing service. But if they do plan on increasing their physical level of service, I think that necessarily degrades everyone else’s level of service. If they do plan on building a physically separate network, then even worse for us. Segregation doesn’t do much for equality– you can count on the independent and democratic network degrading the minute the big dollars start rolling in for the “premium” network. An attempt to mirror traditional media where money equals credibility would be a sad day for the internet.

[…] The first time I wrote anything about this ‘corporate plan’ was back in December 2005. The ISPs and telecom service providers were just opening up about this idea back then. What has become of the idea right now is a complete mess, a corporate disaster, and essentially undemocratic. […]

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