ses chicago 2007

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu describes “Network neutrality as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally”.

This morning’s keynote speaker, David S. Isenberg, Principal Prosultant, walked SES attendees through basic concepts of net neutrality and urged us to get involved in order to save our businesses from monolithic and greedy telecom and cable companies.

Now that we’ve invented the internet and applications that drive it’s growth, the telephone companies want to take a bigger bite. Along with the cable companies, they seek to transform the internet into an application-sensitive network where some applications are free and corporate applications, like search marketing communications, are essentially taxed. Services like email, websites, blogs, photo-sharing and many other day to day staples of modern digital life would have metered charges, essentially multiplying the cost exponentially.

When AT&T’s Ed Whitacre declared in 2005, “They’re not going to use my pipes for free,” he was talking very specifically about [content providers that fuel] search engine marketers and corporate applications. The phone companies have even used fear tactics such as implying degraded service.

More disturbing, if the telecom companies have their way, is that those who do contract with Internet access providers will be forced to “withstand extra charges, reduced reach, degraded knowledge of their customers’ behaviors, reduced ability to discover new applications and markets, and reduced trust.”

The reality is that we’re threatened. Recent FCC and court decisions seem to indicate that the neutral Internet we’ve all come to cherish, mother of search engine marketing is not a reality we can count on in the future.

  • Joe Lucas

    Hey Marty,

    Great post. I’m glad to see that this issue is starting to get introduced to a wider audience. I did feel compelled to clarify some things and I want to start out by saying I’m 100% for net neutrality. However, the issue is a little different from what you described. Right now no one is really suggesting anything that will overtly affect SEO/SEM companies. This really is aimed at content providers. In essence they want to charge sites like Google and YouTube an extra fee to prioritize packets sent from their servers. It wouldn’t stop them altogether.

    The entire reasoning behind this is to try and deal with a perceived bandwidth crunch. Some other issues that would help ease the load would be offering services like a la carte cable service instead of the bloated bundles that they currently offer.

    Another issue that goes hand in hand with this is the concept of packet shaping. This method essentially targets services like BitTorrent and other P2P technologies and re-prioritizes these packets. Most networks will employ some type of packet shaping technology. In fact, most network admins will tell you that this is essential to providing a quality network. The real issue I have is the idea of paying the telecoms twice to deliver my content.

    I do think that this is an important issue and people should be aware and get involved, especially if you are a content provider. However, this isn’t something that I see having a huge impact on SEO/SEM agencies, IMHO. Right now there’s even lawsuits over Comcast killing BitTorrent outright so I’d expect this practice to be on the decline. Very interesting stuff though. Love the blog!


  • Marty Weintraub

    Joe, THANK YOU. THIS is why I always ask you to write for our blog 🙂 You’re totally correct, however remember that SEMs USE YouTube and other content provider services that would be affected by the carnage.

    An attack on the applications we depend on will result in the tariffs (and that’s what they would be) likely being passed down to us and our clients. Also, “new” SEO is all about recurrent content providers and trafficking optimized content in these channels.

    The premise is that an attack on YouTube is an attack on YouTube’s users…especially SEMs who will ultimately absorb the costs. Google sure as hell is not going to pay. What do you think?

  • Marty Weintraub

    @ Joe: Post amended: he was talking very specifically about [content providers that fuel] search engine marketers and corporate applications. Thank you.

  • Joe Lucas

    Hey Marty, very good points. I do think that this would change the game for certain sites if this goes through, however it will really have a larger impact on smaller sites and startups. What gets lost in a lot of these discussions is how the telecom’s blew the money that was given to them by the government to build out our network infrastructure a few years ago. However, they spent the money elsewhere and now they’re looking for other ways to do so.

    Personally I view the internet as a utility similar to electricity. There’s really no reason why our broadband adoption rates are lower than other countries. There’s a few bright spots on the horizon though. The upcoming auction of the 700 MHz spectrum complete with open access mandates, Google’s dark fiber, and Verizon agreeing to adopt open network standards next year. For every bad story you hear about, we’re now finally starting to hear about a few good one’s too. Hopefully the trend continues 🙂

  • Joe Lucas

    Actually, just to add one more thing. I mentioned cable bundling channels as a cause for the bandwidth crunch. Something else to push for is true IPTV and a la carte cable service. Right now you have hundred’s of channels pushed to your set top box constantly. By switching to an a la carte model or a true IPTV model this would almost eliminate the bandwidth problems we’re currently having. In this model, you would only have the current channel you’re watching streamed to your house. Changing channels would be a little slower, however the benefits far outweigh the costs, IMHO. The internet 2 movement alongside semantic web technologies also offer a better infrastructure for all the content online as well. All of these are great things to support as well. Ok, I’m officially off the soap box now 🙂

  • Marty Weintraub

    Right Joe. We sure don’t have to pay the electric company for services provided from appliances…say CAT SCAN machines. This is a very interesting dialog.

  • David S. Isenberg

    Thanks to Joe and Marty for the summary, the discussion and the support of Net Neutrality. I think Joe’s right that the violation of NN would primarily disadvantage smaller and more innovative sites. That’s a point I tried to make in my talk.

    But I’d like to take issue with one thing. Joe says (above, first comment):
    “Right now no one is really suggesting anything that will overtly affect SEO/SEM companies. This really is aimed at content providers.”

    Actually, I think SEOs and SEMs will be affected directly, but subtly. If a telco offers company a better service than company b, and company a gets more clicks as a result, it becomes harder to say that users like company a better. The entire click stream, the whole set of end user behavior, that SEOs and SEMs depend on gets distorted, and it becomes harder to know what the end-user behavior really is . . . reduced knowledge of end-user behavior, reduced market discovery, reduced trust in the results . . . it is a slippery slope we do not want to start down.

    Hey, thanks again for the good notices!

  • Marty Weintraub

    @ David: Cool. Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed your talk.