As a special entry today, please join me in welcoming a guest post from Christian Dawson, Chairman and co-founder of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition! We asked him to write a post for us on the net neutrality issue and how it effects web hosting, and I hope you find it as informative as I did!
My name is Christian Dawson and in addition to heading up operations at a web hosting company myself, I am Chairman and co-founder of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, or i2Coalition. My friends at Site5 asked me to guest blog for them about Net Neutrality, to try to put some context around the things that you have surely been reading over the past few weeks, months and years. I want to explain a little about what Net Neutrality is, and then put it in context with how the Web Hosting industry works – to show not just that Net Neutrality is important and needs to be preserved, but also that broadband providers are unique in the Internet ecosystem, and saying that they need to be regulated doesn’t mean that we need to regulate the rest of the Internet.
The concept of Net Neutrality is actually fairly simple – it means that when it comes to consumer broadband, every packet should be treated equally. That sounds simple enough — but when you look at this from a technical perspective it ends up being fairly complicated.
The truth is that in the web hosting field we don’t have Net Neutrality. When somebody puts up a website, there are a number of factors that dictate how fast or slow that it goes. There are small shared hosting packages that don’t have a whole lot of resources, and there are massive cloud arrays that, in the aggregate, have more power than any one user could ever consume. People put content on fast networks and slow ones. People who want their content to be blazing fast make sure that they put a ton of computing resources behind their website, and then they put it on a fast network and even then they probably invest still more in further distributing their content on a CDN. You see, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, and so it makes sense on the Internet to try to distribute your content as close to the eyeballs you think want to see it.
This is especially true because studies have shown that 40% of all Internet users abandon a page if it takes even 3 seconds to load. So speed is critical, and we are already in a situation where speed can be expensive to deliver. On the Internet, content providers buy services from people like our friends at Site5 to deliver content, using a concept called “sender pays”. Site5 does everything in their power to deliver that content as quickly as they can, including investing in great infrastructure and a fast network, where they pay “upstream providers” to deliver their content to end users.
Now let’s talk about end users.
End users don’t generally have relationships with web hosting companies like Site5. They are a different part of the ecosystem. Their relationship with the Internet is generally focused exclusively on their home broadband provider, to whom they pay a monthly fee. Their expectation is that this fee will get them any content they wish to have delivered to them as fast as their broadband provider can get it to them. Their broadband provider owns the “last mile” – the fiber that connects their home to a CO, or local central telecommunications office. So in a way, the broadband provider “owns” the driveway that delivers content from the Internet to the home.
The question at the core of the Net Neutrality argument is this: should broadband providers be able to charge different rates for delivering different content along that “last mile”? Should broadband providers also be able to charge content providers and web site owners for the bandwidth required to deliver content to the end user quickly?
We already covered the fact that web hosting providers sold different services for different prices, right? Let me explain why what the broadband providers are trying to do is not the same thing.
The broadband industry couldn’t be more different from the web hosting industry. A company like Site5 works incredibly hard to thrive in a ridiculously competitive field, where by most estimates there are around 35,000 competitors – most of them small to medium sized businesses – pushing each other to be better through competitive market forces. Companies like mine and Site5 are good, in part because the market requires them to be good to survive. We need to keep our prices competitive and our services high quality or we won’t survive in the face of stiff competition.
According the the FCC itself, 67% of U.S. homes that even have just one or two service providers to choose from. Broadband is the opposite of a competitive market, it’s a market where a few major corporations build territories to service end users. To be honest, it’s kind of natural that the broadband market has ended up that way. It doesn’t make sense for lots of different companies to dig up America’s neighborhoods to run their own last mile fibers to try and compete with each other. It wouldn’t make any more sense than having lots of different electric companies run extra power lines to your home – or gas or water and sewage. And yet broadband isn’t treated as a utility the same way that gas or electric is. And they are seeking to convince the FCC that they shouldn’t be – that they should be allowed to find new revenue streams.
In short, the broadband providers want to take maximum advantage of the uncompetitive part of the Internet they control – and will potentially manipulate the speed of the portion of the Internet they control so that the content that Site5’s customers pay to deliver quickly won’t actually get to its final destination as quickly as it could unless the customer is also willing to pay the broadband providers – potentially all of them – for prioritized delivery.
Broadband isn’t like the rest of the Internet, and it shouldn’t be treated like the rest of the Internet. As we look to solve this huge problem, we need to make sure that we protect the whole Internet ecosystem. We do that by standing up for Net Neutrality, but we also do that by teaching people how the Internet works – because what we DON’T need is FCC jurisdiction and new regulation across the entire competitive Internet.
The i2Coalition brings together companies like Site5 and mine to support an open and competitive Internet. Because an open Internet is key to the economic benefits provided by the Internet as a whole, I2Coaltion believes that the FCC should segregate the presently non-competitive transmission portion of Internet connectivity from other aspects of the Internet as a whole. The FCC would then have the authority to impose reasonable regulations on the transmission portion. This would allow the FCC to focus its open Internet efforts on the portion that is not competitive, while allowing the portions of the market that are sufficiently competitive (like web hosting and the Cloud) to remain free from regulation and open to innovation.
Join i2Coalition in the fight for an open Internet at www.i2coalition.com.