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Technologist proposes Net Neutrality solution

A former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission is calling for a fact-based solution to the Net neutrality issue, to be determined by a neutral group of experts, meeting out of the glare of the current hype.

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David Farber’s credentials are considerable--as an academic, he did pioneering work in distributed computing and helped conceive and organize early versions of the Internet including Computer Science Net (CSNet), NSFNet and NASA’s Research and Education Network (NREN). During 11 years at Bell Labs, he helped design the first electronic switching system (ESS)--technology which became the heart of the modern phone network. In addition to a long academic career ending at the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School of Business, he maintained a commercial business developing software, and served on many boards of directors for commercial companies, in addition to his post at the FCC. While in Washington, he led the review of Time Warner’s acquisition of AOL, another in a series of issues where politics, business and technology collided.

Farber said in an interview today that the current emotionally charged arguments about Net neutrality are counter-productive and are not likely to produce the solutions required to insure the Internet’s future.

“We need to get a small set--15 people tops--to drill down and decide what it is people agree to and what they don’t agree to,” he said. The group would be university-sponsored and include expert economists, regulatory officials and technologists. “It needs to be a fact-finding operation – that’s a first step.”

Similar groups have been assembled to address issues such as spectrum management, Farber said. They enable work to be done quickly and quietly.

“We can get together under the auspices of CMU [Carnegie Mellon University, where he is currently affiliated] and Penn and people can talk and say things they mean without attribution,” he said. “They can talk off the record but to each other and not have to worry about being quoted endlessly and out of context. It has to be fast and it has to inform the Congress with a set of facts. If in the process, one comes up with a resolution--happy day. If you don’t, you have the facts out.”

Farber said it may be possible to “engineer the way out” of the current dilemma, which has pitted cable and telephone companies against Internet firms, ranging from Google and Yahoo! to the VoIP community and consumer groups, in a debate over whether providing “tiered” or premium-based services amounts to degrading all other Internet traffic. In a group of experts, potential solutions could be quickly vetted.

“It’s one thing to mumble in public about that, it’s another thing to mumble among experts,” he said.

Normally, such an issue could go before the National Research Council, he said, but its approach would take more than a year to solve the problem, whereas his proposed approach would be much quicker.

“We’re talking a month, not months,” Farber said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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