Bush official goes nuclear in Net Neut row

Shouting match with delegates


Supernova 2007 A San Francisco tech show degenerated into a shouting match today, after a pugnacious Bush commerce official squared off with heated supporters of net neutrality.

John Kneuer, the assistant secretary for communications and information, quickly lost his temper and began shouting back at Supernova 2007 attendees after taking flack for saying the free market - not government intervention - would protect internet innovation and access.

Taking a brief time out from shouting his responses at delegates who'd rejected his claims the free market has ensured consumer choice in US broadband internet access, Kneuer remarked in an aside: "I started out very politely."

That came seconds after he told delegates what they really wanted was for the government to mandate terms and conditions of internet service in the US.

"That's absolutely what you are asking for!" he shouted to counter-shots of "no!" and "there is no market place!", referring to the fact a handful of phone and cable companies control the lion share of broadband internet access and service in the US.

Increasingly, it seems, those companies will be allowed by the Government to charge for different levels of internet service - ending net neutrality.

Kneuer, who previously served with a Washington DC law firm representing telecoms companies, had fueled the crowd's anger during a short Supernova presentation.

Identifying delegates as "application providers", he said it was their responsibility to compete with broadband incumbents by offering their own service, founded initially on portions of the 700Mhz spectrum. This spectrum will be sold under auction once terrestrial TV providers complete their move to digital in February 2009.

He ruled out government action on net neutrality, with measures such as safeguarding packet prioritization and quality of service. "The end state of that is innovation in the regulator space outstrips the innovation in the application space," Kneuer said.

"The challenge is for the right application company to play in the access layer... this is a green field opportunity to have a radically different market participant to bring concepts of open access. If there is a pro consumer benefit to open access and if consumers need and want that, the carrier that brings that to consumers will have a powerful need and advantage and bring competitive pressures on other access layer providers.

"I firmly believe market forces are going to provide even more open networks and access much, much, much better than I can do as a regulator," he said.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, was challenged to donate a portion of the spectrum to academic institutions for research purposes. Speaking after Kneuer, a researcher for Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) expressed frustration that there's currently no reliable way to gather independent data on the internet.

Researchers are instead forced to rely on vendor figures or are refused information on the grounds of privacy or the law, principal investigator KC Claffy said.

"We need numbers on spam, but where do you get numbers on spam from - anti-spam vendors. These aren't the people you want to be getting numbers from when setting policy," she said. "Let's look at what a public network is really used for. We cannot answer that. And the carriers are about to ask us to pay for traffic, 99 per cent of which is spam! If the Commerce Department really wants to help us they will provide the research community with a really open network we can all study." ®

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