Municipal broadband networks could help boost the availability of high-speed Internet access and even help to ensure Net neutrality in the U.S., said Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google.
Cerf, known as one of the fathers of the Internet for his role in creating its basic architecture, spoke at a lunch in Seattle, a city that is investigating the possibility of building its own broadband network. Seattle would follow its southern neighbor Tacoma, which has been operating its own fiber network for several years.
Cerf disputed arguments that operators sometimes give for why they should be able to limit or block bandwidth-hungry applications on their networks, and suggested that since they don't have technology facts to back up their arguments, people should be able to build their own networks to meet their needs.
"Many people raise the issue that video use on the Net is somehow going to drive it into congestion," he said. While in certain scenarios that could be true, the reality is that increasing the throughput solves the problem, he said.
A person could transfer an hour's worth of video over a gigabit channel in about 16 seconds, he said. That means that rather than streaming video, which is indeed taxing on the Internet, users would download it instead. "It's much easier on the network, and people have more than enough storage to download," he said.
Some operators also talk about the capacity of the Internet backbone itself. "As for running out of capacity, we've barely touched the surface of the fiber capacity. We are far from having exhausted this capacity," he said.
Operators may simply not want to invest in their networks to bring higher bandwidth to users, he said. "That comes back to the municipal argument. Citizens that want the capacity should be able to decide among themselves to put the resources in place to get that kind of capacity," he said.
Some operators contend that municipal networks create competition between the government and private companies. "That's nonsense," Cerf said. Governments would contract with the private sector to build the network and maybe even operate it, he said, so the two would be partners. In Tacoma the city maintains the network, but other companies serve as ISPs (Internet service providers), selling access to end-users.
Cerf's comments come as a new bill was introduced by lawmakers in the U.S. this week that would subject broadband providers to antitrust violations if they block or slow Internet traffic. Some lawmakers and operators argue that such legislation is unnecessary and would slow investment in broadband networks. The bill follows discussions across the industry and by government leaders around practices at Comcast, which says it has slowed some customer access to the BitTorrent peer-to-peer protocol during times of network congestion.
Cerf has been a vocal opponent of operators that limit access to certain applications. "I still think it's not a bad idea to have legislation that says don't discriminate unfairly simply because you happen to have control over this shared resource," he said on Friday.