Why Net Neutrality is above your job grade

By Tom Hausken
As a supplier in the photonics or telecom food chain, should you care about the landmark decision this week over the FCC vs. Comcast ? In short, no. It’s above your job grade. Here’s why.

Much is made about this kind of thing at the carrier level, since it impacts how they do their business. And what the carriers do—who wins and who loses—impacts the optical equipment vendors. And that passes on to the component vendors, who win or lose depending on their customers . So far, that’s all true.

But these kinds of decisions are really for policy wonks and legal nerds. I know, because I’m a recovering wonk myself. I once worked on telecom policy for Congress.

It’s not that technologists are above policy issues, or have nothing to contribute. Technologists are notoriously aloof in policy debates, but badly needed.

Rather, the neutrality debate is irrelevant to the optical networking community because it’s mostly decoupled from the day to day business of the network. There are so many other factors that are also very important. Think of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each has a regulatory agency. There are municipal agencies. Federal courts. The FCC. Congress. European countries. The European Commission. Japan. China. India. And a hundred other countries. Think of Google, iPhones, Facebook, Youtube. Think of refrigerators with IP addresses. (Then again, let’s leave that out.)

While policies get worked out, traffic just keeps on going up and up. And no one really has a good grasp just exactly how fast the traffic is growing, much less how much it will grow in the future. And even when big policy decisions are made, the consequences take years to work out. There will be more appeals, reactions by competitors, possibly legislation.

It’s important to take an interest in Net Neutrality as a citizen. It’s about whether you think broadband service should be a regulated utility, or if it should be a competitive service. And yes, the consequences do trickle down to the equipment and component vendors. But the ones who stand to gain the most from these debates? Lawyers and government affairs officers (also known as lobbyists). That’s a certainty.
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