It’s clear that last week’s Dept. of Justice filing hewed very closely to arguments often made by AT&T and others opposing any form of limitation on their ability to prioritize communications on their networks.
But it may be too easy to say that DOJ is in thrall to AT&T. This may be part of something much more significant.
The Bells, Hollywood, and law enforcement all have strong interests in controlling online communications. The internet disrupts their business models. We can see this in the AT&T fight against network neutrality (and the Pearl Jam story); in the studios’ determination to blame P2P software for every form of sin and every possible security risk; and in law enforcement’s desire to ensure that all highspeed internet communications have a back door that makes them easily tappable — as well as to ensure (see n.20 of the DOJ filing) that “public safety” packets get priority.
Non-neutrality writ large, which carries with it the ability to impose differential “quality of service” treatment on different packets, serves the interests of all three of these groups.
Non-neutrality also serves the interests of those who would like (more generally) to see the internet morphed into something much more akin to the current wireless model here in the US: a fully-monetized network, permitting use of particular applications that share their revenues with the network access provider. (This network would not be the same thing as the internet.)
Another document came out last week that ties this all together. It’s from the ITU, and it’s called “Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2007: The Road to Next-Generation Networks (NGN).”
The ITU defines “NGN” as a network that provides quality-of-service-enabled transport technologies. The idea is that packet transport will be “enriched with Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) to ensure Quality of Service (QoS).”
Translation, as far as I can tell: packet transport becomes the same as circuit-switched transport. Prioritization is controlled; it’s a network optimized on billing.
Now, the ITU has been working on “NGN” for an awfully long time. It holds many many meetings about it. It takes a lot of work to change an open system into a cellphone system. But a cellphone system would put the network operators (and their friends in Hollywood, and law enforcement), back in charge of communications. They’d be able to charge whatever they want, outlaw whatever they want (eg, unwanted P2P communications, non-CALEA-compliant communications), and generally run the show they way they used to in the old days. It’s not clear that the “road to NGN” will ever actually be followed.
The DOJ filing is another step along that road. It parrots AT&T, but it may be tied to a much larger incumbent agenda around the world.