Let's Get Technical: New Broadband Technical Advisory Group Formed

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?

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