Google's Cerf advocates regulatory approach to opening broadband access

The official position of Google remains that the Internet's infrastructure should be open and accessible, stated Google's Vint Cerf in a statement to BetaNews this afternoon.

NEW YORK CITY (BetaNews) - Following a gathering of industry luminaries and regulators that included FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, Google's Chief Technology Evangelist Vint Cerf spoke with BetaNews on his views about how broadband Internet service may be made more accessible, and more equitably available.

"I am not persuaded that deregulation is the way to go," Cerf told us. "Instead, regulations that require telcos and cable companies to share their infrastructure, such as those impacting British Telecom in the UK, might be a more effective remedy."

Cerf was referring to a 2005 agreement between Britain's leading telco and the British government regulatory body Ofcom, in which BT agreed to split itself into two autonomous operating units. One of those units manages its broadband access services, and is set up explicitly to resell that service to other ISPs at rates that enable them to remain competitive.

It's not exactly a change of position for Cerf, who has advocated some degree of regulatory oversight for cable and telco ISP services in the past. In prepared testimony for a net neutrality hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee in February 2006, Cerf showed, at the very least, opposition to any change to the current regulatory structure, saying, "Many seem to forget that the rational for reduced regulation at the FCC was based in part on the promise that carriers would build robust broadband platforms to support the Internet. Turning away from those commitments would undermine the rational for deregulation. Moreover, retaining some type of user safeguard that promotes an outcome of net neutrality would seem a small burden in the context of the immense deregulation that has happened, and likely will continue to happen, at the FCC."

That July, Cerf told reporters that if Congress failed to pass net neutrality laws, his company may have no choice but to file suit against major ISPs that it believes to have discriminated against content providers.

But from Google's point of view, even Ofcom's actions may not have led to a completely beneficial outcome. In comments filed with the FCC in June 2007 (PDF available here), Google argued against the use of quality-of-service technology (QoS) to deliver "premium" and "regular" grade performance, for instance, to different classes of customers; and in its arguments, it cited BT as contributing to the reason why not.

"QoS may not even provide the supposed benefits that its supporters suggest. In order for prioritization to have any material impact on a stream of Internet traffic, it must be activated all the way through the Internet, from the content provider's side of the Internet "cloud" through the backbone networks and finally to the end user. Because any one network operator does not own and control every potential route through the public Internet, numerous multi-party business agreements and/or uniform standards would be required among all Internet service providers to achieve end-to-end QoS. Such arrangements have eluded the parties to date. For example, British Telecom apparently will not employ a QoS-based scheme in its network."

For his part, Commissioner Adelstein is on the record as having called for a nationwide broadband policy summit last February. That said, he's also been an opponent of added federal regulation, including when FCC Chairman Martin called for rural cable operators to carry high-definition TV signals uncompressed. That causes those operators to reduce availability of broadband in those rural areas, Adelstein pointed out in an FCC report last December.

Cerf also mentioned financial incentives as another possible approach to making broadband service more readily available. One such deal, for example, was reached last May between Verizon and the City of New York, to provide FiOS service for its five boroughs.

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