Policy Rules?

Do telcos need a policy framework? Ask anyone in the Internet community that question, and you are likely to get a robust response. Policy tools – including policy servers, deep packet inspection (DPI) gear, and other similar technologies – are a means to identify applications, monitor subscriber behavior, and act on that information. And to most Net-heads, that smacks of repression. It's no coincidence, on this reading, that "policy" and "police" have the same root. And it's undeniably the case that the most common use of policy tools today is to block, throttle, or "shape" high-bandwidth applications such as "over the top" video streaming and peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading.

Does it really need to be like this? In Heavy Reading's new report "Policy Control & DPI: The New Broadband Imperative," we argue that there is more to policy than policing. Policy servers, for example, are rules engines, and a rules engine can be used to apply policies of all kinds to any piece of data that can be effectively acted upon.

Where policies are both application-specific and subscriber-specific, they can have many benefits. They can assure the quality of valued video streams from particular sites; offer customers on-the-fly temporary access to premium services; allow customers to apply parental controls to their children's use of the Internet; allow personalized advertising based on customer demographics; and allow third parties to tap into telco resources when creating and running applications.

Even when applying controls to high-bandwidth applications, policy has its uses. Tiny groups of users do not, after all, have the inalienable right to hog bandwidth that is a common resource for all, but there are many ways to deal with this problem that do not crudely block users without warning.

The truth is that policy tools have plenty of positive uses that benefit all three parts of this equation – the telcos, the third-party Internet service providers and Websites, and the end users. To be sure, there are dangers here, and this is an area in which regulators may need to apply some controls, including transparency about what telcos are actually doing. But the best way to deal with heavy-handed use of policy tools is by ensuring that there is competition in supply, so that end users have real alternatives if they are unhappy about their treatment by service providers.

Ultimately, whether policy frameworks are used by service providers in a more positive an creative way depends on the service providers themselves. There are plenty of available technology solutions – our report identified no fewer than 32 vendors with policy propositions, with more entering the market. It's time for telcos to take another look at just what those tools can offer them.

— Graham Finnie, Chief Analyst, Heavy Reading

For additional information, or to request a free executive summary of "Policy Control & DPI: The New Broadband Imperative," please contact:

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