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November 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 11
Hot Button

Net Neutrality or Net Reality? That is the Question

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece is in response to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert)’s recently stated pledge to support net neutrality and apply it not only to wireline but also wireless networks. (Details and analysis on the chairman’s comments can be found in the story “Genachowski Presses the Net Neutrality Hot Button” on the editorial page immediately preceding this one.)

The term "net neutrality" is an oxymoron – the net is not neutral nor is it free.

Taking a hands-off approach to the network is like taking a hands-off approach to the roads. Get rid of traffic lights, roundabouts, stop signs and pedestrian crossings and all you’re left with is chaos.

No proactive traffic management means a free-for-all where pedestrians, cyclists and semi-trailers are all sharing the same lane. The same is true with the Internet.

The Internet infrastructure was built by commercial companies that have every right to be profitable, and there is no justification in preventing them from realizing a reasonable return on that investment as long as the needs of Internet users are met. That’s net reality.

The demand for bandwidth will always exceed the supply of bandwidth. The sheer abundance and accessibility of applications is staggering, and in order to ensure fair access for all, the network has to be managed. We have customers who, when operating at full capacity, 90 percent of their network is being used by less than 10 percent of their subscribers. If, for example, operators cannot optimize VoIP traffic over P2P traffic in times of congestion, the VoIP quality will be so degraded that it becomes unusable.

There’s no need for a crystal ball to see what a successful Internet business model should look like. We only need to look at mobile voice networks where subscribers pay for the services that they use, from ringtones to email, from wallpapers to instant messaging. Our vision for the Internet is very similar. Tiered service levels such as gold, silver and bronze based on throughput and volume is an obvious way to go, and to be honest not a new idea. Many service providers around the world have successfully implemented tiering as a solution to both optimizing their own pipes and providing their subscribers choice.

The idea of providing choice to subscribers makes sense. If we take the idea one step further we can give subscribers choices in how they use and pay for Internet access – what sort of applications they really want access to: a premium VoIP package; a video package that guarantees the quality of the video stream; a dedicated gaming package that makes sure the action doesn’t slow down when the network does. If your operator offers these services at a price that suits you, great. If not, there’s bound to be an operator that will meet your budget. That’s competition, which is also not a new idea.

The net reality is that in a competitive environment the laws of supply and demand are incredibly effective in regulating what companies can and cannot do as long as consumers have alternatives. Regulation for any purpose other than to level the playing field and outlaw extreme practices is simply unnecessary. The bottom line is we need to create an environment where service providers can operate with a successful business model and at the same time provide subscribers with choice of when, how and what they use the Internet for. That’s net reality. IT

Rami Hadar (News - Alert) is president and CEO of Allot Communications (

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