Not only do I head up operations here at ServInt, I am chairman and co-founder of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, or i2Coalition. The i2Coalition is highly concerned with Net Neutrality, so I want to put some context around things that you have surely been reading over the past few weeks, months and years. I want to explain a little about what Net Neutrality is and then put it in context with how the Web Hosting industry works. Let’s start at the beginning: Net Neutrality is important, and it needs to be preserved. Equally important, however, is recognition of the fact that broadband providers are unique in the Internet ecosystem. Saying they need to be regulated doesn’t mean we need to regulate the rest of the Internet.
The concept of Net Neutrality is actually fairly simple — when it comes to consumer broadband, every packet should be treated equally. But when you look at this from a technical perspective, it ends up being fairly complicated.
The truth in the web hosting field is that we don’t have Net Neutrality. When somebody puts up a website, there are a number of factors that dictate how fast or slow it goes. There are small shared hosting packages that don’t have a lot of resources and there are massive cloud arrays that (in the aggregate) have more power than any one user could ever consume. People put content on fast networks and slow ones. Those who want their content to be blazing fast make sure they put a ton of computer resources behind their website. They put it on a fast network and then probably invest still more into distributing their content on a CDN. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, so it makes sense to try to distribute your content as close to the eyeballs you think want to see it.
Speed is critical because studies have shown that 40% of all Internet users abandon a page if it takes even 3 seconds to load. We are already in a situation where speed can be expensive to deliver. Content providers buy services from people to deliver content using a concept called “sender pays.” The providers deliver that content as quickly as they can, investing in great infrastructure and a fast network, to paid “upstream providers” who deliver the content to end users.
Now let’s talk about end users.
End users generally don’t have relationships with web hosts. They are a different part of the ecosystem. Their relationship is usually focused on their broadband provider, to whom they pay a monthly fee. Their expectation is that this fee will get them any content they want delivered to them as fast as their provider can get it to them. Their provider owns the “last mile” the fiber that connects their home to a local central telecommunications office. The provider controls the driveway that delivers content from the Internet to the home.
The question at the core of the Net Neutrality argument is: Should broadband providers be able to charge different rates for delivering different content along that last mile? Should they also be able to charge content providers and web site owners for the bandwidth required to deliver content to the end user quickly?
We’ve covered that web hosting providers sell different services for different prices, so let me explain why what broadband providers are trying to do is not the same thing.
The broadband and web hosting industries could not be more different. Companies like ours work incredibly hard to thrive in an extremely crowded field, where by most estimates there are around 35,000 competitors — most of them small-to-medium sized businesses — pushing each other to be better in order to stay alive. ServInt is at the larger end of that competitor spectrum, but we face the same pressures. We need to keep our prices competitive and our services high quality or we won’t survive.
In contrast, according to the FCC, 67% of US homes have just one or two broadband service providers to choose from. Broadband is the opposite of a competitive market; it’s a market where a few major corporations build territories to service end users. To be honest, it’s kind of natural that the market has ended up that way. It doesn’t make sense for lots of different companies to dig up America’s neighborhoods to run their own last mile fibers to try and compete with each other. It wouldn’t make any more sense than having different electric (or gas or water or sewage) companies run extra lines to your home. And yet broadband isn’t treated as a utility the way gas or electric is. And they are seeking to convince the FCC that they shouldn’t be; they should be allowed to find new revenue streams.
In short, they want to take maximum advantage of the uncompetitive portion of the Internet they control by manipulating its speed so the content ServInt’s customers pay to deliver quickly won’t actually get to its final destination as quickly unless the customer is also willing to pay the broadband providers — potentially all of them — for prioritized delivery.
Broadband isn’t like the rest of the Internet and it shouldn’t be treated like the rest of the Internet. As we look to solve this huge problem, we need to make sure we protect the whole Internet ecosystem. We do that by standing up against things like paid prioritization, but also by teaching people how the Internet works. What we don’t need is FCC jurisdiction and new regulation across the entire Internet.
The i2Coalition brings together companies like ServInt and many others to support an open and competitive Internet. Because an open Internet is key to the economic benefits provided by the Internet as a whole, the i2Coalition believes the FCC should consider the presently non-competitive transmission portion of Internet connectivity separately from the Internet as a whole. The FCC would then be allowed to impose reasonable regulations on the non-competitive portions, while allowing portions of the market that are sufficiently competitive (like web hosting and the Cloud) to remain free from regulation and open to innovation.
Join i2Coalition in the fight for an open Internet at www.i2coalition.com.
Photo by WSDOT