One of the more entertaining debates that have been raging on the Internet over the last year – net neutrality – has finally been given an FCC mandate.
In a nutshell, the generators of content – the big websites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, etc – were pitted against the owner/operators of the public IP transit network – Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Level3, etc. At issue was the idea that a content provider can pay money to provide better network service for their end customers, presumably at the expense of less fortunate content owners whose users could suffer from less than ideal network performance. These proposed “fast lanes” on the public network have been met with widespread derision from the content-consuming public, and rightfully so: it creates a moral hazard when money can filter what content we consume on the Web. Hence, like it or not, the World Wide Web is now one step closer to being a public utility.
I love my YouTube as much as anyone…but what does all this mean for the enterprise, anyway? Frankly, here at ClearSky, we’ve been pondering the public Internet for quite some time. It has the enormous advantage of instantaneous, ad hoc, any-to-any connectivity across billions of end points. Because of this, the use of the network is dominated by companies wishing to push content from a small number of locations to the billions of users, phones, tablets, cars, and lots of other viewing and listening devices. As a result, when we pay for access to the Internet, we aren’t just paying for the raw bandwidth we are using. We are also paying for the costs of our provider connecting with all the other providers to carry all that digital content across their lines. Along with that expense, we have to deal with highly variable throughput, very unpredictable latency, and the risk that hackers might spend their free time trying to access our endpoints from their outposts in Outer Slobovia.
Interestingly, there is, and always has been a “fast lane” available to businesses: the private line. Way back in the 1990’s a cadre of very well-funded, competitive telco providers spent enormous sums of money running fiber optic cable throughout the country and our major cities in particular. Like many 90’s era tech stories, this one ended badly. The need for all this bandwidth never materialized in time to keep the service providers out of bankruptcy. Today, we are seeing that a whole industry of service providers has emerged to leverage those fiber optic assets. They specialize in providing dedicated, private Ethernet connectivity in metro areas across the globe. These lines are low cost and offer very consistent, low latency and high throughput. Better yet, they are private – the enterprise decides who has access through their network. Finally, they are getting progressively cheaper over time. We think that the ubiquitous availability of this type of connectivity creates huge opportunities for business to leverage very high levels of bandwidth. Even more interestingly, it can give rise to a whole new generation of network-intensive applications that could never run well on the Internet because of its constraints.
So what if you aren’t trying to stream movies to 100 million users as part of your business? What if you just have a datacenter across town that you need to connect to securely? It should not be necessary to shoehorn every application into the public IP network. If your business needs a fast lane, the most cost effective way to get one is to use a private line. We’re looking forward to seeing the impact of the FCC verdict play out in the private connectivity space – new regulations often have interesting side effects, and this case is no different. Now that you can’t get differentiated service over the Internet, it’s a good bet that the market for private connectivity will benefit.