Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Seth Johnson
Coordinator, Dynamic Platform Standards Project

The problem of access to high speed Internet comes in large part from the fact that the incumbent phone and cable providers don't want to deliver the Internet at high speed.

The Internet, as defined by standards, is generic and flexible with respect to application development by end users. Nearly whatever pattern of communication I can create, it supports. It gives everybody that. It is at bottom a way of communicating that lets anybody who connects to innovate -- to turn their connection into a unique way of publishing, transferring or working with information between themselves and other users -- or to use applications other users on the Internet have developed to make one's connection do the unique things one wants to do.

Once they get connected -- and that's what you're addressing -- the fact that people have so far been able to expect uniform treatment of information flow comes from the Internet's fundamental design. It's not that everybody follows a policy of equality -- it comes from how transmissions were designed at the IP layer by consensus standards. In order to support all sorts of things that you could come up with, the Internet platform turns everything you do into little pieces and the pieces are sent independently from each other through whatever routers get them to where they need to go -- whether those routers are controlled by the incumbents or not -- so they can reach Internet-connected computers across the entire world. Then on the
other end you pull the pieces together and put them in the order and structure you want. This is the same technique of digitizing information into little pieces that your computer uses to support innovation. All the routers on the Internet get along by doing this. Please the materials on the Dynamic Platform Standards Project site, at, for more details.

This is the kind of connectivity that this committee needs to be sure to get access to. Providers can offer other things, but you need to make sure that Internet connectivity is the policy objective, and other things aren't allowed to be presented as if they are the same

The problem is that the incumbents have stated they don't want to do this. They want to be able to set different prices for different applications and services that they provide, and if they do this, shape transmissions according to their own applications, they will sacrifice the flexibility and genericity of the platform that everyone connected to the Net has available to them.

The incumbents will drag their heels until we tell them directly that the real Internet is what we want, not something else, like FiOS, just because they're giving us a little more speed.

You want to have signal delivered at the infrastructure level just as it is under common carriage; you don't want to allow the standards to be overridden by providers in a market position to offer something else and call that Internet access; and you want to let end users do
all the things they've become accustomed to being able to do above that.

Finally, I want to call your attention to the comments submitted by the New York Chapter of the Internet Society to the Federal Trade Commission's recent public workshop on "Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy" ( -- ISOC NY comment at, which alludes to some of these same points. I would recommend that the Internet Society and the Internet Engineering Task Force be a part of this committee. We won't be able to develop the kind of flexible standards that have given us the Internet and the World Wide Web, let alone assure the empowerment that access to the Internet can provide to all communities, unless we are specific about the nature and advantages of the current platform and about framing the policy issues this committee is addressing in those terms.

Thank you.


Seth said...

In the limited time available during the hearing, here are the main things I made sure to mention -- I may post a transcript of my verbal testimony later:

I started with some comments about how "broadband" is not the key issue, but rather that real opportunity and empowerment comes from assuring that we deliver Internet access, and I noted there was no definition of Internet access in the materials supplied at the hearing, and recommended that that be incorporated. I also recommended that the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Internet Engineering Task Force take part in the Broadband Advisory Committee, as they are the relevant consensus standards-making bodies for the Internet, whose work would be overridden if the incumbent phone and cable providers were enabled to treat something else as if it constituted real "Internet" access. I also urged that these recommendations be relayed to Governor Spitzer's statewide "broadband" initiative.

Thanks to the New York City Council and Gale Brewer for initiating this project.