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Summary:

Internet service providers, Microsoft, Intel and Google have created a broadband technical advisory group to provide an engineering perspective on issues associated with broadband networks. But the group’s lack of focus makes it hard to know if this is a good thing or not.

It's too early to cheer for TAG.

Major Internet service providers along with Microsoft, Intel and Google have created a broadband technical advisory group to offer an engineering perspective on issues associated with broadband networks. Dale Hatfield, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a former FCC employee, will head up the effort, which has been dubbed the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG or TAG).

The optimistic goal of the group as explained to me by Hatfield is to evaluate network technologies and predict both what the intended and unintended consequences of those technologies will be on the end user of an application. “My personal hope is that we earn the trust of the policy makers, so that they might refer stuff to us for opinions,” Hatfield said. He added that those opinions would be solely technical, and hoped that in some cases, the group might solve technical challenges before the FCC even took notice of them.

The TAG appears to be a collection of company-appointed engineers issuing unsolicited technical opinions on challenging topics such as network neutrality. But the real question is whether it represents a compromise by ISPs and big tech firms to self-regulate so the FCC drops the issue of regulating net neutrality, or a genuine effort to understand the technical implications of various network management practices and provide solutions that don’t discriminate against individual apps or harm consumers.

Since Hatfield admits that the group’s mission and structure isn’t yet formalized, I suppose the question is still up in the air. For what it’s worth, the group says the following in a press release announcing its formation:

The TAG’s mission is to bring together engineers and other similar technical experts to develop consensus on broadband network management practices or other related technical issues that can affect users’ Internet experience, including the impact to and from applications, content and devices that utilize the Internet. Participants agreed that the TAG’s mission could also include: (1) educating policymakers on such technical issues; (2) attempting to address specific technical matters in an effort to minimize related policy disputes; and (3) serving as a sounding board for new ideas and network management practices.

Frankly, despite the five or six press releases already in my inbox lauding or deriding the creation of this group, there’s not much here to judge — or even celebrate. Reminds me of a certain cloud computing manifesto.

Related GigaOM Pro Content (sub req’d): The New Net-Neutrality Debate: What’s the Best Way to Discriminate?

  1. [...] hostilitiesCNET (blog) Post Tech: Telecom, tech giants seek voluntary net neutralityWashington PostGigaOm (blog) -Ars Technica -BusinessWeekall 93 news articles » No Comments so far [...]

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  2. I find it curious that perhaps the real intent of TAG is self-regulation. If that is the case then this might be a brilliant chess move.

    I recently wrote an article on crowd-sourcing to solve problems. TAG has that same feel — is an impressive and eclectic bunch: AT&T, Cisco, Comcast, EchoStar, Time Warner Cable and with Professor Hatfiled leading this charge. It feels as if I am looking at the United Nations of the broadband industry.

    In addition to the companies mentioned TAG may also invite – academics, professionals, policy makers and engineers. This is simply a massive collection of problem solvers — working on best practices, advise on technical issues, resolve disputes over network management and work with policy makers.

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  3. The TAG is the result of two years worth of discussion in DC on Internet industry self-regulation. All new technologies with a reasonable regulatory framework start with self-regulation and then move to government regulation once their parameters are well-understood. The alternative is to try and shoe-horn them into whatever legacy framework seems handy, like Title II.

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    1. If TAG is successful in self-regulation combined with reasonable regulatory framework then is Title II or the “third way” necessary?

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      1. Title II isn’t going to fly, and it’s a kludge at best. Congress has to lay out America’s Internet regulatory policy, and they haven’t reallybgot a good idea of where to start. Their last stab, the Communications Act of 1996, doesn’t mention DSL, Cable Modem, FTTH, or mobile broadband. They’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

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  4. [...] Speaking at the Brookings Institution last week, Cohen also championed the newly established Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group, an industry forum of engineers and technologists, calling it an innovative group that can solve [...]

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