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3/14/2006
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Cisco Enters The Ring On Net Neutrality

Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers has joined the carrier echo on network neutrality. Blocking and impairing is bad, freedom to manage crowded networks and create quality-of-service agreements with content providers is good (and different from the first). Don't legislate against hypotheticals.

Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers has joined the carrier echo on network neutrality. Blocking and impairing is bad, freedom to manage crowded networks and create quality-of-service agreements with content providers is good (and different from the first). Don't legislate against hypotheticals.Sounding the same down to the exact letter of earlier AT&T statements, Chambers writes in a March 9th letter to Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, that carriers "should not block, degrade or impair" the Internet for end users. He adds, once again parroting the arguments of access providers, that carriers "should remain free to engage in pro-competitive network management techniques to alleviate congestion [and] ameliorate capacity constraints." And in the attached policy statement--without three parrots, it wouldn't be a squawk box--Cisco again sounds as if it's singing in a round: "Imposing specific network neutrality rules now to address hypothetical problems would only compound the problem." Smartly, Chambers and company stop there, never crossing into Ed "My Pipes" Whitacre territory.

It's completely unsurprising that Cisco would take such a stance. After all, the company makes the biggest chunk of its change off of carriers and large enterprises. Telcos and big companies that can afford to pay to have their services work better might benefit from such a stance. Cisco already makes equipment to shape traffic, and pushing for the ability to prioritize what comes over the Internet will help sell this equipment. Finally, it's a public company, so the bottom line rules.

In fact, Cisco is way ahead of this statement. It has already published white papers recommending a method to the madness, for example, charging one price to end users to simply surf Web sites and get E-mail, another to file-share, and yet another for additional services.

But it doesn't escape the fact that the very nature of prioritization of some traffic means deprioritization for others. Or that even mom-and-pop content and software-as-a-service shops already pay hefty fees for Internet access and might not be able to afford to compete. Or that the ultimate cost will be borne by the consumer, which is a customer segment Cisco desperately wants in on. Or that one of the very things that made the Internet (and thus Cisco) thrive was its increasingly common carrier-mandated, open, standards-based, content-neutral access model that relied on rapid-fire technological breakthroughs that have consistently brought exponentially faster, more available bandwidth. Or that taxpayers have already paid billions and billions to carriers to roll out expensive fiber networks.

That said, Cisco is an intelligent company. It had to be to remain the number-one networking vendor for so long. So it has obviously weighed costs and benefits, and understands that throwing its weight behind the carriers both helps their case and helps Cisco more than it hurts Cisco.

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