Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) - "a cooling of hostilities over Net neutrality rules"?


FierceCable report on the launch of the US Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG), as do Cnet:
"Longtime political rivals including AT&T, Google, Comcast, Verizon, and Microsoft, announced Tuesday they had joined together to form a technical advisory group to "develop consensus on broadband network management practices or other related technical issues that can affect users' Internet experience," including applications and devices. The formal name of the effort is the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG), which will be chaired by Dale Hatfield of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a former chief technologist of the Federal Communications Commission."
I flagged BITAG in this previous post, some interesting comments on the BitTorrent blog:
"BitTorrent has always believed that innovation and collaboration with ISPs where all parties participated in some self-regulation was a more ideal approach than heavy-handed policy. Even in the early days of the net neutrality debate we worked hard to find common ground with Comcast, and to address issues associated with rich media content and network capacity management. For us, the path has lead to the development of uTP, which is a protocol designed to be sensitive to bottlenecks and yield capacity to other applications when it senses network congestion. It is through innovation like this that we can hope to improve our users’ experience, as well as yield benefits to ISPs by putting less strain on the network. Challenges are best met with cooperation, and the formation of this group signals that everyone is ready to put down their swords and work together and look for solutions that are in the best of interest of all parties involved."
FierceCable suggest that while this development could be seen as "a ploy to forestall federal oversight of the Internet", this appears unlikely, as "there seems to be little chance of any kind of regulation during this election year."  Here's why: last month Congress reacted very unfavourably to the FCC's proposals to reclassify broadband as a Title II service (but with only a handful of Title II provisions applying - their "third way"). From an additional article on Cnet:
"A bipartisan group of politicians on Monday told FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in no uncertain terms, to abandon his plans to impose controversial new rules on broadband providers until the U.S. Congress changes the law. Seventy-four House Democrats sent Genachowski, an Obama appointee and fellow Democrat, a letter saying his ideas will "jeopardize jobs" and "should not be done without additional direction from Congress." A separate letter from 37 Senate Republicans, also sent Monday, was more pointed. It accused Genachowski of pushing "heavy-handed 19th century regulations" that are "inconceivable" as well as illegal."
More on this letter here, with details of an additional letter sent to the FCC by House Republicans here. Free Press ("a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media") have a very interesting commentary on this second letter on their Save the Internet site. According to Cnet," in an election year dominated by discussions of jobs, the economy, and health care, regulating broadband providers is hardly a congressional priority". So it looks like BITAG is the way forward in the short term in the wake of the FCC/Comcast decision. But what might happen in future isn't yet clear:
"If Congress does return to the topic in 2011, it's difficult to predict what might happen, and whether the Google-eBay-Amazon.com axis would prevail over broadband providers. Which is why both sides appear to have decided that having a series of informal discussions - far away from the halls of the FCC and Capitol Hill - might be more productive."
Here's hoping common sense applies, the press release announcing BITAG's launch suggests that it might?

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