An Internet that spurs not strangles innovation
The world we live in today is one where people, process, data and – increasingly – things are connected as never before. The Internet of EveryThing (IoE), is driving the most dynamic area of innovation, creating new business models, economic, social and environmental sustainability and also has fantastic potential to improve our quality of life.
Just imagine: a blind man gaining independence because his once ordinary walking stick is able to communicate with his other senses through sensors, vibrations and GPS technology that guide him through the city maze. Imagine a connected car informed of traffic jams by analyzing traffic patterns and adjusting traffic light operations. Or think of smart manufacturing facilities that cut costs by reducing waste and energy consumption. And these are just the possibilities being realised today. Imagine what the future will look like in 5, 10 or 25 years from now.
We have barely begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. We don’t know what applications and services will shape the Internet’s future. To continue innovating, we need the Internet to remain open, giving the most creative among us the chance to experiment with daring new ideas.
We also must be sure not to stifle the very innovation that we seek to encourage. If we do so, it could inhibit growth and new ideas alike. This is why today we should focus on putting in place the right policy principles that will further develop this new Internet of Everything.
In policy debates, net neutrality is often understood to mean that all bits should be treated equally, regardless of whether it’s a text, email, picture or video. While at first sight this may sound reasonable, the truth is that such a strict net neutrality principle would become an innovation straight-jacket. It would require us to re-design the Internet as we know it, doing away with tools that have become essential to its success.
Different Internet services have different requirements. It doesn’t really matter if an email arrives now or a second or two later. But if you’re dealing with real-time applications – such as video communication, or buying stocks or monitoring vital signs, delays can have an incredible impact on user experience and effectiveness.
So the truth is that you have to manage internet traffic to make sure that the data that has to get there immediately – does. This short video explains what traffic management entails and why it is so important.
Reasonable traffic management is so deeply embedded in the Internet’s core structure that it could not operate smoothly without it. This is the case already with the traffic loads of today, let alone in the future. Because management and scheduling are a crucial part of the Internet, we are closely following European efforts to formulate new net neutrality legislation. Cisco believes such legislation has merit but it could also have sweeping implications for reasonable traffic management and new services that would ultimately stifle rather than encourage innovation on the Internet. These implications can and should be avoided.
Fortunately it seems there is an increasing realisation among some policy-makers that net neutrality legislation, necessary as it may be, shouldn’t eliminate reasonable traffic management altogether. That approach would undermine rather than improve the quality of users’ experience. One way to establish net neutrality rules that prevent bad behaviour while maintaining a role for traffic management is to pursue a two-thronged approach where a line is drawn between the types of bad behaviour we do not want to see in the Internet and the necessary and reasonable traffic management techniques that ensure the fast, reliable and scalable networks that we all rely on, and need as consumers.
Equally, there is an emerging consensus that we must avoid overly prescriptive attempts to cast into law lists enumerating or narrowly defining the types of services other than internet access services that we deem “deserving” of specific levels of quality. Such attempts are bound to get it wrong in many cases. Moreover, any such neutrality law would quickly be outpaced and overtaken by reality. Building a Procrustean bed for the Internet is not the way towards a more vibrant digital economy in Europe. It is not necessary to have these prescriptive definitions and conditions on innovation as long as we maintain strong and clear safeguards to ensure an open and reliable Internet.
As the debate on neutrality in Europe enters its final phase, with trialogue negotiations starting this week, we hope the European Parliament will take a fresh look at the issue and we achieve a balanced final outcome.
In essence, the legislation we need should be sturdy enough to hold things together, but flexible enough for Internet entrepreneurs to continue adding new applications and services.
Just think about what the Internet looked like 15 years ago: a handful of wires, noisy connections that would bump you off from time to time, and streaming would be as quick as a snail. We have made huge strides, and we can continue towards an Internet of Everything – a smarter, more productive and efficient way at approaching life. But to get there, striking the right balance in Europe’s regulatory framework is more crucial than ever before.