IETF and “Paid Prioritization”

Written by David Sohn

CDT filed a letter with the FCC today, responding to AT&T’s recent effort to paint the IETF (the Internet Engineering Task Force) and its “DiffServ” standard as somehow supporting “paid prioritization” of Internet traffic.  AT&T’s letter fundamentally mischaracterizes the IETF’s position and indeed its entire role.  IETF standards like DiffServ provide technical tools.  That doesn’t mean the IETF endorses their use in any given scenario.  The documents setting out the standard don’t purport to address at all the issue of when, how, and in favor of what traffic DiffServ might be employed.  Sure, the standard implies that the IETF recognizes that there may be some legitimate use cases for a tool that marks traffic for priority.  But endorsing paid prioritization schemes in which large content providers pay ISPs for the right to cut in line in front of other traffic, including traffic of their potential competitors?  Hardly.  The bottom line is the IETF plays a crucial role in providing the technical protocols that allow networks and devices to operate seamlessly — but it is a mistake to project business and policy positions about questions like “paid prioritization” onto technical standards that make no such claims.

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