April 17, 2007

For search, extreme network neutrality must not be compromised

In a recent post on the Monash Report, I drew a distinction between two aspects of the Internet:Jeffersonet and Edisonet.Jeffersonet deals in thoughts and ideas and research and scholarship and news and politics, and in commerce too.It’s what makes people so passionate about the Internet’s democracy-enhancing nature.It’s what needs to be protected by extreme network neutrality.And it’s modest enough in its bandwidth requirements that net neutrality is completely workable.(Edisonet, by way of contrast, comprises advanced applications in entertainment, teleconferencing, etc. that probably do require new capital investment and tiered pricing schemes.)

And if there’s one application that’s at the core of Jeffersonet, it’s search.No matter how much scary posturing telecom CEOs do – and no matter how profitable or monopolistic Google becomes – telecom carriers must never be allowed to show any preference among search engines!At least, that’s the case for text-centric search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft run today.The reason is simple:The democratic part of the Internet only works so long as things can be found.And search will long be a huge part of how to find them.So search engine vendors must never be able to succeed based on a combination of good-enough results plus superior marketing and business development.They always have to be kept afraid of competition from engines that provide better actual search engine results.

Fortunately, enforcing this doesn’t require any kind of precise regulatory definition of “search.” Enforcement will be automatic as long as the basis of discrimination in delivery and pricing is very coarse-grained – in particular, if it is restricted to what tier of QOS (Quality of Service) is demanded. There seems to be an emerging consensus around that idea.Neither net neutrality extremists nor telecom companies love it, but neither has persuasive arguments against it.As for me – well, watch for my April 30 column in Network World. ;)Or look here for a guide to my previous writing on the subject.


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