Internet Fast Lanes: You May Be Surprised by Who Actually Has Them

The Internet Association — lobbying organization for internet giants like Google, Amazon and Netflix — is adamant that it is necessary to apply 1934 phone regulation (aka “Title II”) to the internet to assure that there are no premium “fast lanes,” that all bits are treated equally, that internet service providers do not prioritize their own content over content from competitors.

Internet Association members sometimes say that they can afford to pay more for fast lanes but they are worried about the little guys — the startup — who may not be able to pay more and whose websites therefore won’t be as zippy as they need to be. They’re worried about innovation. They’re worried about you.

In fact, however, web giants like Google and Amazon have private networks that connect to the internet in many locations. They have data caches (think of them as content warehouses) around the world. Their websites do pop up faster than yours because their bits travel mostly on their private networks and avoid internet backbone and interchange congestion. In other words, they have their own private fast lanes. You can’t achieve this speed for your website unless you build a private network of your own (unlikely) or host your website on Amazon or Google, in which case they may share some of their private access network. I have hosted services on Amazon, and they charge me more depending on how many locations from which I want my data served. In other words, faster is more expensive on their network.

Conveniently these private fast lanes are specifically exempt from the 2015 Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet (aka “net neutrality”) regulations, which reclassified basic internet access service in a way that lets the FCC micromanage it and prohibit public “fast lanes.” The members of the Internet Association are “edge services,” so they are unregulated by this rule.

From a technology point of view, the ISPs could offer small customers premium transport, which allows your site to compete better with Amazon. The 2015 regulations make that illegal. They protect Amazon and Google from competition both by you and by the ISPs — all in the name of “net neutrality.”

Do you think this had anything to do with the fact that Google made a 180-degree switch? It lobbied for years to assure that the internet was not treated like a telephone network. That was when telcos wanted regulation to protect themselves from competition. Now it’s the members of the Internet Association who would rather compete in the regulatory arena than in the marketplace.

It is true that internet speeds are not what they could be, especially in rural areas. Part of that problem is that there are relatively few internet access providers. But is there more concentration in internet access than in search? I don’t think so. Should Google be regulated? No. But neither should they be able to use regulation to protect themselves from competition. Google correctly sees the ISPs as potential threats. They were once going to compete with them by offering Google Fiber. That would be good for all of us. But Google isn’t going to string fiber if it is cheaper to use regulation to protect themselves from competition.

The current FCC regulations, which I think should be repealed, protect the members of the Internet Association from ISP competition. Even more importantly, they protect the big internet content providers, who own their own fast lanes, from the competition a startup or smaller competitor might provide if it could rent a “fast lane” from an ISP when they are still too small to have their own private network or “fast lane,” such as Amazon or Google.

Tom Evslin was the cofounder, chairman and chief executive of ITXC Corp, a NASDAQ-listed company that grew from a startup in 1997 to the world’s leading provider of wholesale VoIP and one of the largest carriers of international voice minutes of any kind by 2004 when it was acquired. He also served as chief technology officer for the state of Vermont.

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