Publié par Jean-Patrick Grumberg le 6 mars 2015


Jean-Patrick Grumberg: Avram* you are…, may I say, one of the grandfathers of the Internet as we know it today.

Avram: I prefer that you said « one of the Fathers. » but yes.

Because a generation, in Internet time, is … two years.

[quote]I was one of the creators of residential broadband connection to the Internet[/quote]

Yes I would say I was one of the principal, not of the Internet but as one of the creators of the residential broadband connection to the Internet which played a major role in creating the use of the Internet by consumers.

So in a way, the discussion now about net neutrality is part of the consequence of that activity?

Right, the discussion about neutrality in the US results from the evolution of the broadband infrastructure of the United States which always had some issues.

There was a common thinking at the beginning of the Internet that everyone has his own free share of the network, of the infrastructure, which mean everyone can speak freely and nothing is blocked.

Yes, and that’s still true. when people are talking about net neutrality, they really are not talking about the Internet, they really are talking about the broadband access to the Internet.

Generally, I would say that the structure of the Internet is intact, not really controlled by anybody.

[quote]The superhighway is intact, not really controlled by anybody[/quote]

Back in the 90s, I referred to the Internet as being the Information Superhighway, ( a term that Al Gore originally coined by Al Gore) in a congressional hearing in which participated. I said that while I may be a highway, it only had bicycle paths to get on and off meaning the residential access to the Internet. Reed Hunt, the then Chair of the FCC, quoted that remark several times. So when we talk about Net Neutrality, we are really talking about residential access to the Internet and not the Internet itself.

It’s a little bit hard to understand because when we speak about the Internet we’re talking about multiple layers of protocols (the OSI seven layer model ). I won’t go into that now, but the lowest layer is the physical layer and TCP/IP which many of heard of, is a higher level. We really are talking about the lowest levels, about how you get on and off the Internet.

In an office you might use WiFi or be connected using an Internet cable and then where does that go? If you’re in a big building, in an office or whatever, it might go a variety of ways such as a fiber optic connection. Many companies will offer you ways to connect to the Internet and there is a lot of competition.

However, if you’re an individual in your at home, there really are only two access point in most home in the United States. One is the cable network which connects to more than 90% of homes in the United States. The second way is using the telephone infrastructure which connects to almost all homes in the United States. By the way the US government requires the telephone companies they required of them to connect everybody including those in rural areas,even though this is not economic because the government believes that having telephone communication was an essential right of all people and that nobody should me denied the ability to get on the phone. This is actually an important backdrop to this whole question of net neutrality. So again, I would like to stress that we are really discussing the access to the Internet and not the Internet itself.

Avram, I would like to split the rest of the interview in three parts. First I would like you to describe the pros and cons for Net Neutrality. Then I would like you to describe quickly the false arguments and finally give your opinion.

[quote]Net Neutrality I think, is a very poor term[/quote]

The argument for net neutrality, which I think is a very poor term, because what we’re really talking about is the control of the access.

OK, Here is the argument for net neutrality.

I wanna go back to my analogy about Information Super Highway and imagine that we had a highway, and you can drive on this highway, and go very fast on the highway. You can go to any place you wanted to on this highway, but the access on and off is controlled by different companies. There is a toll booth and you had to pay to get on the highway. Then there is a toll booth to get off it. So while you might be able to go anywhere in theory, but you might not be able to go there because you might not be able to afford to pay for the fees to get on or off.

It could be even worse.

Maybe they won’t let you get off to a certain destination. What if they said you can only get off at this location if you drive a Mercedes. If you were driving an Audi you would have to get off earlier and then drive the back roads. People are concerned that the Cable Companies could behave in this way.

[quote]this is an issue, because they have a virtual monopoly[/quote]

The reason this is such an issue, it’s because they have a virtual monopoly. A Cable Company is granted a monopoly by a city in return for certain tax revenues. They only wanted to have one provider since laying cable in a city can require tearing up streets, for instance. This system was put in place when Cable Companies only provided Television services.

In the early 90s, when I was a Vice President at Intel, I realized that the infrastructure which was being used by the Cable Companies for Television could also be used for providing high-speed connection from homes to the Internet.

[quote]While people are concerned about the misuse of this power in the future, that has not yet happened in my opinion[/quote]

There was another industry that could also provide a high-speed connection that was the phone company. We worked with the telephone industry to create an alternative to the Cable Connection to the Internet. The technology for this is called DSL, but DSL was not technically capable of providing the kind of speeds we are now used too. So now we have one company in most location that is the only high-speed connection to the Internet. While people are concerned about the misuse of this power in the future, that has not yet happened in my opinion.

[quote]Once the government starts getting involved, the result will be a poor experience for consumers[/quote]

The argument against Net Neutrality is that the government once it starts getting involved will start to interfere with normal business practices, and the result will be a poor experience for consumers. Furthermore, it will reduce the level of investment the cable companies and others in infrastructure because it won’t be profitable now. There is concern that the government will start regulating pricing and other things.

If you look at what happened like at the FCC, the Republicans which are the more pro-business party in the United States, all voted against this legislation, and I think it was three against four and then the four members that were appointed by the democrats voted for it. By the way this ratio can change and it does change periodically and we could have a republican led FCC and which could reverse these policies, It might happen in a couple years when there are new elections.

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Now for the « False Argument », the « Fake Argument ». The arguments that scare everyone and that are not true.

[quote]The false argument on the other side is that the government is going to totally destroy the Internet[/quote]

So the fake arguments on both sides are basically what I said you know already. We don’t know that the cable Companies will misuse their capabilities in order to get gain and pay for other businesses. One could argue that could have waited for the legislation to that happen. The Government could have used the thread of it, but you won’t actually legislate it. The False Argument on the other side is that the government is going to totally destroy the Internet. There is no evidence of that either. So these are things that could happen but there is no evidence they would happen.

My opinion

[quote]I am very disappointed that the cable companies have not invested more in developing high-speed access to the Internet[/quote]

I go back in forth on this because I am very disappointed that the cable companies have not invested more in developing high-speed access to the Internet. It is sad to me and unexpected, the United States would be so far behind other countries in offering consumers high-speed access to the Internet. Many developing countries have better speeds than the USA and at much lower prices.

I’m also concerned about the lack of development of the Internet for rural areas because the Internet will become through the backbone of education, information and then people that are not able to get in would be deprived of that, and it will affect them economically and so on.

[quote style= »boxed » float= »right »]The problem is that the government is basically run by politicians and what they do have little to do with what really benefits people[/quote]

I think that we could have found a way to deal with this problem through taxation then via regulation. For instance, the Government could give big tax breaks to the cable companies if they invested more in infrastructures. There are many things to do, but the problem is that the government is basically run by politicians and what they do have little to do with what really benefits people. Many of the people in the government lack the skills to understand the technical and business issues. Unfortunately, there aren’t really good ways for people that do have a deep understanding to contribute.

You know, people do serve sometimes like they just hired a senior executive from Google, Megan Smith, as the chief technical officer of the United States.
I don’t believe that a position of this very much influence. The main problem is that the United States just lacks a clear set of objectives regarding residential access to the Internet.

We can’t really say what is broadband objective of the United States? What is it that the government hopes to accomplish? Without an objective, how can there be an effective strategy for accomplishing it? So that’s where the problem starts There is no set of goals. Do we want everybody to have access? Do we want to make sure that the people that are economically disadvantaged have access? That all children have access. Do we want to encourage the improvement of the access to the Internet from consumers in their homes? How can that be best accomplished?I think the government should make a statement what the objectives are let people discuss it, especially people would have some knowledge and experience.

Thank you Avram,

Reproduction autorisée avec la mention suivante : © Jean-Patrick Grumberg pour

* Avram Miller is an American businessperson, corporate venture capitalist, scientist and technologist. He served as Vice President, Business Development for Intel Corporation (1984-1999). He co-founded Intel Capital and led Intel’s initiative to help create and expand residential broadband Internet access.

He publishes a blog at

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