The cable industry has consistently demonstrated its commitment to policies that ensure all Americans have access to affordable broadband. This includes:
- Proposals to create a fund tailored to expanding broadband into unserved areas.
- The Broadband Data Improvement Act which would improve federal data collection regarding where broadband services have been deployed in the United States to achieve the goal of ubiquitous broadband availability for all Americans.
- Tax credits or other tax incentives to providers that build out in rural areas that are unserved by an existing broadband provider.
- Reform of the RUS broadband loan program so that funding is targeted specifically to unserved areas.
- Expansion of the FCC’s Lifeline and Link-Up Programs to help ensure that broadband access is extended to low-income households.
- Public-private partnerships to provide broadband in unserved areas.
We recognize that the government can play an important role in making certain that the economic and social benefits of broadband connectivity are extended to all areas of this country. While broadband deployment to every community in America merits the full attention of policymakers, legislation calling for “network neutrality” or government intervention into the operation of networks would undermine the goals of broadband deployment and adoption.
The government’s consistent light regulatory touch since the introduction of broadband has worked. Only that continued regulatory freedom is likely to spur the investment and innovation that consumers have come to expect.
The cable industry is on the verge of making the leap — from “broadband” to “wideband” — with a technology which can enable dramatically higher download and upload speeds. Several weeks ago, for example, Comcast launched a “wideband” service in Minneapolis-St. Paul that offers speeds of 50 Megabits per second. Comcast expects to have wideband available to 20% of its systems by year-end 2008 and to all homes passed by mid 2010.
The efforts of broadband network providers to build larger and faster networks have helped ensure the success of countless numbers of new Internet businesses and applications. Despite concerns about alleged limited access to broadband, use of Internet video on demand has grown at the most dramatic rate. In February 2008, nearly 135 million U.S. Internet users spent an average of 204 minutes viewing 10.1 billion online videos. YouTube represented 34% of those online videos, or nearly 3.5 billion.
For years, net neutrality proponents have argued that without government intervention, broadband providers would stifle competing services and content providers; Internet development and usage would stagnate; and consumers would be unable to use their broadband connections to download video or access other emerging applications. In fact, cable’s investment in broadband has driven innovation and investment in new content and applications at the edge — the exact opposite of what was predicted by advocates of net regulation.
There is no better proof than YouTube. YouTube would have been a pipe dream in 2002. Six years later, however, YouTube — the proverbial “two guys in a garage” who allegedly could not survive, let alone thrive, unless the Internet was regulated — has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise. In 2006, YouTube consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet consumed in the year 2000.
Here’s an incontrovertible truth: the staggering growth of these companies would not have occurred without cable’s investment in and deployment of the reliable high-speed broadband service that provides the ecosystem in which Google, YouTube, Yahoo! and other Internet services flourish.
In 2006, I testified before the Senate Commerce committee and stated that cable operators do not and would not block subscribers’ access to any lawful content, applications or services. That statement remains true today.
Cable modem subscribers have the ability to do anything they want to on the Internet. They can download or stream videos, upload and send pictures to friends, or call family across the world. They can also attach gaming devices, or any other computing device they want to use to the network. They can use file-sharing software from peer-to-peer networks. If they couldn’t do what they wanted, they would soon not be cable modem subscribers. They would go to our competitors.
Cable providers built a smart infrastructure that has the capability to evolve and meet the challenges of multimedia, file sharing, and other bandwidth-intensive applications. Cable broadband subscribers currently enjoy the full benefits of broadband because cable operators manage their networks on a content-agnostic basis to provide seamless connectivity, deter spam and viruses, and make sure that a tiny minority of users don’t slow down the Internet for everyone else.
Various estimates are that as few as 5% of customers use from 50 to 90% of the total capacity of the network. In Japan, it is estimated that 1% of Internet users consume 47% of the total Internet traffic.
There have been some recent concerns that network management practices affecting certain high-bandwidth-consuming peer-to-peer (P2P) applications are “discriminatory.” P2P traffic can consume a disproportionately large amount of network resources — far, far more than any other Internet use. If even a small fraction of customers are using these bandwidth-intensive applications at the same time, it can interfere with the ability of the vast majority of all other customers in that area to surf the web, watch streaming video, make voice-over-IP calls, or engage in other routine uses of the Internet.
Providers can’t build their way out of this problem — in spite of increasing capacity, many P2P protocols are written specifically to commandeer as much bandwidth as is available. Instead, providers optimize their networks in order to balance the needs of all of their customers.
Far from inhibiting access, smart network techniques protect the ability of our customers to make the greatest and most flexible use of the Internet. They are a reasonable response to an identified congestion problem that has the benefit of allowing all other applications – particularly latency sensitive applications like VoIP and streaming video — to work better.
As the Institute for Policy Innovation recently stated, “[i]n almost all cases, network management today is unnoticed by consumers. The opposite, a total lack of management, would not be true. If network operators were precluded from managing their networks, consumers would be negatively affected.”
Far from being “neutral,” a network that is not managed simply allows those who want to demand all the bandwidth for themselves to do so unchecked.
Some P2P developers are creating new ways to make that technology more bandwidth efficient and network-friendly, so that it may continue to emerge as a useful way to distribute legal content. Cable companies and other broadband providers are working hard to find ways to address concerns about network congestion and create consumer-friendly options that allow the majority of users to access content at the speeds needed. The “P4P Working Group” – a collaborative industry effort to develop network management solutions that benefit cable and other broadband operators, P2P software firms, and consumers — is one such effort.
Broadband providers have also begun testing and dialogue with P2P applications providers to make networks and P2P applications friendlier to one another. Just last week, Comcast and Pando Networks, a P2P software developer, announced their intention to lead an industry-wide effort to create a “P2P Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.” Comcast and BitTorrent recently reached an agreement in which Comcast pledged to adopt a capacity management technique based on individual users’ consumption during peak periods rather than based on a particular protocol.
Under the guise of preventing discrimination, “net neutrality” proponents would have the government determine which network management techniques are permissible. Putting every network management strategy up for debate before regulators would severely hamper the ability of network providers to ensure high-quality and reliable Internet access for their subscribers. Depriving network operators of certain bandwidth management tools only makes the network less efficient for everyone. Adept network optimization techniques are fundamental to creating and preserving the stable “ecosystem” for online service providers that ensures an optimal customer experience.
Misplaced concerns over legitimate and reasonable network management practices do not justify the enactment of open-ended regulation of the Internet, particularly where the costs of such regulation are foreseeable and substantial. Given the growth of broadband competition and the breathtaking pace of technological change, government intervention is unwarranted. As the Federal Trade Commission has warned, regulation of Internet access at this stage of market development could have “potentially adverse and unintended effects,” including reduced product and service innovation.
Congress should resist calls to interfere with broadband providers’ freedom to manage their respective networks in order to satisfy the evolving needs of American consumers. The disaster scenarios voiced by network neutrality proponents for many years have never happened. In fact, the opposite has happened — the Internet is booming without regulation. There is quite simply no problem requiring a government solution.
Today’s hands-off policy has given us the flexibility to innovate and respond to consumer demand. By contrast, proposals for “net neutrality” amount to regulation of the Internet that would undermine — not promote – consumer choice and welfare.