Skype to FCC: Keep the Internet Open & Neutral

Skype, a big proponent of open networks and net neutrality, in a filing today with the Federal Communications Commission argued that net neutrality was “about growing the broadband ecosystem and preserving a borderless, open Internet” and said it would “promote investment, jobs and innovation.”

The company said that it “welcomes the Commission’s focus on preserving an open Internet and strongly supports the proposed six principles described in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM.)” Earlier, the FCC had come up with a framework pertaining to broadband and wireless networks and issues of network neutrality. The FCC has been seeking responses on sensitive and divisive issues such as reasonable network management.

Skype’s stance makes sense given that the company needs net neutrality to keep going and growing. In its filing (embedded at the end of the post), Skype argued:

Evidence suggests that carriers have the incentive and ability to harm innovation in the real-time communications application market, such as that made possible by Skype, either by outright blocking or more subtle forms of discrimination. Because these applications offer consumers additional choice and savings, they should not be delayed, obstructed or throttled by broadband access providers.

The filing didn’t say anything surprising. We all know that services such as Skype, YouTube and Twitter are the reasons people subscribe to broadband connections, and in order to keep the demand for faster (and more expensive) broadband connections, the technology industry needs to keep creating such applications.

[related-posts align=”right” tag=”Skype”] Interestingly, Skype wants the FCC to keep the mobile broadband networks open, much like fixed-line broadband networks, but it understands the need for some sort of network management when it comes to wireless networks. The company wants the FCC to make sure that VoIP providers like it are allowed to offer their services over all kinds of networks.

Skype believes that it should never be reasonable for any network operator, including wireless network operators, to block, throttle or degrade particular applications without regard to the network capacity such applications actually are consuming. Not all video applications, or peer-to-peer or VoIP applications, consume the same amount of bandwidth or place the same demands on network capacity. Skype, for example, optimizes its software application to adapt to network congestion and consume very few network resources — between 6 kbps and 40 kbps for a voice call depending on the level of network congestion, which is less than traditional POTS or other popular voice protocols.

Thus, simply blocking all VoIP applications in response to network congestion is an over broad practice not based on fact and should be viewed as unreasonable. In addition, blocking practices or network management practices that use categories such as “P2P” or “VoIP” are both over- and under-inclusive. Some P2P applications might consume large amounts of network resources, while others, such as Skype, do not. Some VoIP applications include video communications capabilities, while others do not.

Skype is but one example of a P2P application that both transcends the ‘voice’ category but is respectful of network resource issues and does not consume large amounts of bandwidth. The Commission should therefore reject network management practices that rely on these broad application descriptions because they do not bear any close relationship to actual demands placed on broadband networks.

In a post earlier this week, Stacey pointed to research by The Public Policy Institute of California that said broadband can boost economic development, but only up to a point. “Whatever positive effects broadband may have on employment growth, it did not result in either higher employment rates or higher pay for residents in areas where broadband expanded in the 1999–2006 period,” the study found.

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