Re: Cyber-Rights position on ISP charges


I have read a great deal on various mailing lists about the petition
to the FCC and have developed a few positions I would like to share.
I am doing this as an individual, not as moderator.

The issue: several companies and free software offerings allow users
to talk to each other in real-time over the Internet.  This is often
called a kind of long-distance telephone.  A coalition of
long-distance providers called ACTA have petitioned the FCC to
temporarily stop and then to regulate "telephone calls" made in this
manner.  The rationale stated in the petition is that conventional
long-distance carriers have to pay extra fees for interconnection to
wide-area telephone networks (fees that go toward the network's
creation and maintenance); thus it is not fair for Internet users to
forego the fees.

Much of the controversy over this petition boils down to "What is a
telephone call?"  I won't try to untangle the technical details of the
discussions on various mailing lists, but will present a broad
viewpoint below.  Another issue people worry about is what will happen
to the Internet once the FCC starts regulating traffic on it.

My own positions:

1. Real-time audio transmissions over the Internet are simply one
   application of Internet technology in one medium.  A single
   application of a single medium should not be treated inconsistently
   with other applications and media.  This would distort the
   desirable current trend in electronic networking toward multimedia.
   For instance, many users of real-time audio are integrating it with
   the transmission of text and graphics in a kind of
   "computer-supported cooperative work"--great difficulties would be
   placed in the way of this innovation if real-time audio had to be
   charged in a different way.

2. Furthermore, to start taxing information services in special ways
   would set a poor precedent--and one that might be picked up by
   other countries, slowing the spread of new electronic technologies
   and applications internationally.  (This may not be of interest to
   the FCC, but it's important in a broader policy sense.)

3. However, there are issues of equity in the emergence of a
   technology that uses facilities paid for by other companies.  In
   the long run, some body (possibly the FCC) may have to develop a
   policy that makes companies and their users pay fairly for the
   infrastructure they use.  However, for reasons stated below, the
   FCC should not make a policy at this time, and may be relieved of
   having to make any such policy in the future.

4. An estimated 20,000 users currently use real-time audio on the
   Internet.  This is too small a group to make a difference in the
   way resources are paid for and allocated.  Furthermore, the
   Internet contains limitations that make it unlikely that large
   numbers of users will use real-time audio in the near future.
   Reasons include poor sound quality in some cases, a multiplicity of
   incompatible products, and unreliable protocols that cause delays
   and interruptions.  It is therefore premature to change policy,
   especially when a change in policy would have the far-reaching
   impacts discussed in earlier points.

5. New technologies are to be welcomed, and competition should be
   encouraged.  There is a good possibility that telephone
   conversations could be much cheaper and more efficient if the
   Internet infrastructure (physical lines and protocols) came to
   support real-time transmissions to the point that real-time audio
   became ubiquitous.  When that time approaches, the structure of the
   industry and of pricing may handle real-time audio equitably
   without further government intervention; if that is not the case,
   the Congress or various government agencies can make policy.


 Posted by Andrew Oram  - •••@••.••• - Moderator: CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)
   CyberJournal:  (WWW or FTP) -->
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