Broadband Technical Group Forms to Clarify Tech Issues

Published July 5, 2010

Several well-known broadband network providers and Internet heavyweights have formed the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group to serve as a general tool for clarifying technical issues currently clouding policy discussions. The group is intended to be useful also in responding to the federal government’s pressure for mandating net neutrality.

The organization, known as BITAG for short, is expected to become operational in late summer of this year.

Currently involved in BITAG are AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast Corporation, DISH Network, EchoStar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon.

‘Just in the Formative Stages’
The group is headed by Dale Hatfield, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “We are just in the formative stages,” Hatfield said. Regarding the group’s organizational structure and likely budget, he said, “A lot of these things are just not decided. But you could expect it to work like a standards organization, where you have full-time staff plus the people who are actually doing the technical work.”

Bill Hunt, vice president of policy at Level 3 Communications, said, “We’ve talked specifically about the need for industry self-regulation,” which, he said includes discussing parameters for the group to seek self-governance rules and incorporation.

The group is not going to be a formal standards-making body such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Hatfield explained.

“The notion is to address the technical issues in network management and to help the FCC or other policymakers in their decision-making. In other words, it’s providing additional technical background, and the hope is that in the process of doing that you eliminate some areas of dispute. Oftentimes it’s been my experience that when you have a technical issue and the engineers sit down and talk about it for a while” they can come to a mutual understanding of the problem.

“And then rather than getting to the stage where you have litigation starting or something like that, you work it out in advance—at least get the technical issues out of the way,” he added.

Sharing Strategies
Hunt says the group will focus not just on net neutrality “but any kind of broadband or network dispute.”

He says the idea is to give engineers a forum in which to find solutions and methods that don’t favor their own companies’ strategies. The group will give answers that make “engineering and technical sense, and the goal at the end of the day is to have a panel or a group of technical advisers, engineers, who can review disputes that companies bring to them about technical issues and can make those decisions based on technical grounds and not necessarily on economic grounds. The group would then issue its advisory opinion,” he said.

“What happens after that is still up in the air,” Hunt continued, “because we haven’t established the self-governance aspects and put in place rules yet. [Opinions issued by the group] may be used by government agencies in their proceedings.”

Hunt said BITAG might “become the kind of best practices or standards that are published that people can try to work toward.” He added, “We’re not really trying to have company agendas in this. We’re trying to take that out and make this as-technology focused as possible.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.