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Is An Open Network Policy Disingenuous In 2008?

Steven Titch
February 4, 2008, 5:31pm

An "open network" is the hallmark of net neutrality movement and you find it in the talking points of nearly all the candidates, to one degree of another. The essence of their positions will come down to how they stand on network management – the willingness to allow service providers to set performance parameters for the networks they themselves own. It would be welcome to see candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton acknowledge that certain technologies, such as the BitTorrent protocol, are designed to use as much bandwidth the network has available. They don't have to get technical, all they have to say the network neutrality can't be ensured with the push of a button and allowing carriers the freedom to prioritize and apportion traffic, benefit a much greater number of users. There is also the national security issue, something that only the now-defunct Giuliani campaign has been willing to talk about – the vulnerability of the U.S. network to attack. Jules Polonetsky, policy advisor to Rudy Giuliani, noted that the principal challenge is that information security is largely a private sector policy and, although he was not speaking in the context of net neutrality, said that country needs to be able to cultivate the tools to protect itself from information warfare. To be bipartisan, one of the few lawmakers who also seems to grasp the nature of the threat is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). While I find most of Leahy's policy ideas unpalatable, he is right when he says, as he did last week at the State of the Net's Technology Policy Exhibition on Capitol Hill, that the U.S. needs to confront formidable cyberwarfare development underway in countries like China. In addition, he correctly attributed much of the Internet fraud and identity theft to international organized crime, as opposed to the pimply teenage hacker. All the rhetoric about open networks and protocols aside, the next president is going to have to address the reality that unfriendly nations already are testing network security at power plants, banks and other institutions that, by and large, rely on the global Internet for communications and operations. And that's going to mean allowing carriers and end-users greater flexibility in terms of network management, packet inspection and, if necessary, blocking.


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