I try to take words seriously. That means that I believe communications between people is easier if we use the right words.
I have many phrases which I spout forth, one of which is wishy washy words lead to wishy washy thinking. I often think of this phrase when I read about the USA and the ongoing saga of network neutrality in the context of telecommunications.
If you have seen my earlier blogs you might have noticed that I have a very clear interpretation of what a telecommunication service is.
A telecommunications service is when a service provider agrees to transport valid user-defined input, from an incoming service access point to one or more, user nominated, outgoing service points, and that transport is carried out to a understood service level agreement.
I get the feeling that some of the USA discussions about network neutrality hinge on the Internet being an information service and not a telecommunications service. Hmm, looks like we are getting the now famous American alternative facts from such people.
I will try to highlight some relevant facts about telecommunications.
- The legacy public telephone service, whether realised by analogue switching, digital (fixed network ISDN or its wireless version)) technology , is a telecommunications service providing network. The PSTN (Public Service Telephone Network and not Public Switched Telephone Network as many people would like to name it!) has been carrying data (machine-to-machine) since at least the 1920's. In the early 2000's the PSTN in many countries was carring more data (machine-to-machine), measured in transport volume, than speech conversations.
- Even if we restrict our analysis to speech communications across the PSTN (please remember the PSTN includes both fixed and wireless access technologies), we can easily argue that the PSTN supported the exchange of information between users. Even if I only phone my family back in Wales and ask "how are you", it is a classical case of information exchange! Fortunately no-one succeeded in reclassifing the PSTN as an information service since the PSTN is clearly the transporter and not itself the information provider.
- If we now consider the current situation as presented in various online news sites about the USA / FCC and network neutrality. It appears that the USA has classified the Internet as an Information service. Not strictly wrong, unless you try to twist that into meaning that the transport provider(s) are providing information services. They are clearly not providing information, they are transporting.
- We do not say that the postal service is an information service, even though they deliver large volumes of information, sometimes written, sometimes on DVDs or CDs.
- Why do some people try to twist the Internet transporters as providing an inforamtion service. A rhetorical question, to which the answer is for an advantage!
I take the position that is it not in any way technically justifiable to classify the transportation of data (irrespective of how that data is encoded or packeted or routed or switched) as an informational service.
Now, please note that I have not commented here on whether network neutrality is good/bad/right/wrong! I have only considered whether it is justifiable to label the transport providers of the Internet as providing an information or telecommunications service.
My prime concern is that when we start applying incorrect labels to things we start thinking about them incorrectly.
Before we can really understand the whole network neutrality issue we must must must understand correctly what we are talking about.
One of the facts in the network neutrality debate is that telecommunications services are regulated differently to information services.
One of the alternative facts that is popular in the network neutrality debate is that the Internet is an information service for all involved parties, including the transport providers.
When key players start trying to change the classification of a transport service to an information service so that they can avoid telecommunications regulations, well that's when I get to intensely dislike the morals of some of my fellow human beings.
Or possibly not quite so sad, but probably more common, I get heartily disillusioned at the lack of understanding shown by people who should know better.