Analysis: Industry needs to tell own side of Net Neutrality story

December 21, 2010 - Openet

As the FCC prepares to rule on net-neutrality, backers of a strong interpretation of the concept – ostensibly representing the average Internet user -- are making their voices heard loud and clear.

Whether what they are saying, and in particular the extent to which they paint telcos as villains in this saga, is fair or correct, is another story altogether.

But that leads to another question: is the lack of understanding of these issues by mainstream users the fault of telco opponents on this issue, or carriers and industry vendors themselves?

The truth is, there has been a distinct lack of the type of proactive marketing and education activity needed to avoid what could grow to be a very substantial public backlash against telecom service providers on this issue.

DPI, policy and charging vendors have to pitch in to help stave off those attacks. And, carriers should pay attention to what their customers fear and then educate them so they don’t lose customer loyalty.

A Net Neutrality Flare-Up

In recent days, bits and pieces (and random PowerPoint slides) of an Allot Communications webcast about fairly standard industry approaches to congestion management and policy have shown up on different technology blogs, accompanied by inflammatory commentary that concludes that telcos are aiming to overturn the way customers access basic Web services.

For instance, from the the technology blog Engadget, in a post entitled “Wireless carriers openly considering charging per service,” the author laments that newer policy enforcement and charging solutions create an Internet that no one actually wants.” The author concludes that “[carriers] are saying increasingly insane things” about charging, and predicts the FCC will “cave” to carrier desires to “exempt wireless internet service from major parts of net neutrality regulation.”

In various other posts, there are hints that perhaps someday soon, regular denizens should protest by simultaneously halting their use of the Internet. That may sound unlikely, but stranger things have happened in the name of emotionally charged solidarity.

The industry needs to be heard

Before launching successful marketing and education campaigns to address these fears and misconceptions, carriers and their suppliers need to take the first step and read what the public is saying. This morning, I discovered vendor Openet, for example, is doing just that: working internally and with PR resources to explore what is driving the public backlash to the recent Webinar by its partner Allot.

The danger is that without an effort by the telecom industry to tell its own story about Net Neutrality, the history of this issue will be written by others – namely Web and over-the-top players that ultimately have their own corporate interests to represent.

There is a definite need for the telecom industry to better understand how the Apples, Googles and Skypes of the world are viewed as heroes, while telecom carriers and their vendors are somehow viewed as “going after the little guy” who just wants to access his YouTube videos and Gmail accounts.

Because of the power of social media today and the ways in which companies’ reputations can be made or crushed in a day, it’s obvious that more needs to be done by telecom carriers and suppliers to educate the mainstream.

It’s time the marketing and PR gurus at service provider and vendor firms to do more to demonstrate what “fairness” is and how what is being proposed in managing their broadband networks is no different than the business models widely accepted in other industries, including utilities, energy, retail, financial services and other verticals.

Visibility into both sides of the story is needed, which means this industry has to do more to reach out to the mainstream media, blogs and social networks that reach their consumers. The intricacies of broadband service usage, and how unchecked consumption will first plague operators and then their end-consumers, have to be understood.

Before it’s too late.


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