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Why "Open" Next Generation Networks?
We are entering into a new generation of Internet technology; a phase in the Internets’ history distinguished by always-on connections, gigabit-per-second* (gbps) speeds and a critical mass of users. Called “Next Generation Internet” (NGI) by many; it refers to speed or capacity (bandwidth) of a network connection rather than a specific system or a technology. In this context, NGI is (full-time connected), very high-speed symmetric networks that have the potential to dramatically change, enhance and transform the types of applications and services currently available through the Internet’s narrowband precursor.

Like most frontiers, it is impossible to predict what lies ahead for the next generation Internet. An analysis of previous Internet phases, like the creation of the World Wide Web, suggests that the possibilities are phenomenal. The applications and services that will emerge as a result of next generation Internet technology will come out of experimentation by users and from competition among providers of services and tools that enable that experimentation.

*NOTE: A gigabit is one billion bits, or 1,000,000,000 (that is, 109) bits.

Open Access

The remarkable success of the narrowband Internet was made possible primarily because of regulatory action taken by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the 1960’s in which open communication networks and interconnection to essential facilities was encouraged. The FCC decided that the emerging data networks of the time should not be treated like telecommunication services, thus exempting all forms of computer networking from most telecommunication regulation.

This regulation resulted in the Open Network Architecture (ONA), a regulatory framework imposed by the FCC which mandates that communication carriers provide specialized competing services providers, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their customers, nondiscriminatory access to basic communications services. Often referred to as the unbundling of services, ONA forced the communication carriers to relinquish their local monopolies on telecommunications services, thus creating an open market, and allowing various service providers to compete on an equal basis.

The open network policy forced the monopoly owners of communication networks, such as AT&T, RBOC’s, to open access to their network infrastructure – the basic telephone network – to new entrants. By opening access to the functional elements of the network, new entrants, such as ISPs, could experiment with the basic network building blocks. Through FCC policy, open competition was guaranteed and the telephone companies were prevented from dictating the architecture of data networks or controlling or manipulating the content on their networks. The open and experimental environment that resulted promoted the unpredictable innovation that has made the Internet into what it is today.

Just as with the earlier generation of the Internet -- the narrowband Internet -- it is highly probable that important broadband innovations will come only from an open market coupled with an open network architecture that promotes experimentation.

Any lack of open access poses a threat to all Internet users. The concept of open access is to provide customers with a choice of service providers, as well as the ability to provide content and services. From this perspective, open access infrastructures are ‘producer networks.’ Open access allows each customer to choose the service and the provider that best suit their needs. Open access means freedom of choice, choice implies competition and competition spurs innovation. It has been said that the Internet has produced the most powerful and diverse spur to innovation in modern times.

Without open access, potential exists for large Internet service providers (ISPs), such as AOL-Time Warner or Verizon, to control the flow of information on their networks. Cable and satellite companies, for example, are not required to operate as open access networks and often impose restrictive use subscriber agreements on customers. Even local telephone companies that must practice open access due to current FCC regulation, are lobbying to remove or weaken their open access requirements. Without an open access architecture, the rules of Internet commerce and communications will be determined by the telecom giants, rather than the public. Open access creates the widest range of commercial innovation and competition while keeping free the barriers that limit creativity.