By Lynn Bernstein, President, ECG Consulting
Network Neutrality is now effecting every aspect of the internet, whether
it’s a website, ads, exchanging files, VOiP (voice over internet protocol),
surfing the net or any other activity online. Network neutrality is generally
defined as all content and all protocols are equal and treated equally.
With ever expanding net applications this appears to create a problem in
bandwidth scarcity – real or contrived.
Information online travels in packets over the wire. Think of this as
vehicles on a road. When there are too many vehicles on a road that is
now over capacity, all vehicles move slower. It is identical with packets.
As with roads, the wires become congested. More wire can be added at additional
cost, just as roads are added or made wider to handle increased traffic.
(In this context wireless is included as part of wired)
The beginning of the internet was used for research and information
exchange, usually in text files. Today, there are many more applications
such as email, telephony, entertainment (radio, tv, movies, music, etc),
file exchange, telecommuting, and much more.
Companies are moving applications from offline to online to save costs.
Often, you, the consumer, are unaware of this move. Often, you know as
it is a convenience to you – online banking and ordering merchandise are
two common examples. Telephony is another example: the traditional telcos
now route most long distance calls over the net rather than through their
The net infrastructure was not designed for the great amounts of packets
flowing through the wires. If you have ever waited for a page to display
on the web, or file transfers that are slow, you are experiencing this
ISPs (internet service providers) that provide connectivity must deal
with this problem daily while trying to keep all customers as happy as
possible. Until recently this was possible with few noticeable slow-downs.
Today the situation is different, and will change in the future. Whether
the future changes are good is yet to be seen.
At one time ISPs charged by the quantity of packets or the amount of
time a user was logged in to the network. More non-traditional companies
went into the ISP business realizing the net is the future. This includes
cable and telcos. To obtain customers, an ‘all you can eat’ service became
available. No longer did anyone pay per quantity of packets or time.
The internet, and the web in particular, expanded wildly. Today there
is a convergence of technologies. The internet is used for email, shopping,
movies, tv, ordering pizza, and much more. The infrastructure cannot handle
this amount of traffic according to ISPs. In an effort to keep customers
happy ISPs practice ‘traffic shaping’. This is really prioritizing traffic
according to the ISPs decisions on importance. Keep in mind different ISPs
follow different regulations.
An ISP has the ability to interfere with your packets – to slow them
slightly to drastically, and even terminate connectivity with applications.
ISPs have the ability to filter anything online – from applications to
web sites to mail – and they are doing all of this now. No longer
are all packets treated equally.
It started with P2P (peer to peer). It has been proven by the EFF –
Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) that Comcast terminates P2P applications;
(Courts have decided P2P has legal applications); Cox has the same complaints
but not yet proven; Rogers (Canada) inserts account information on
Google pages (content modification). Is this also copyright violations?
These are just three very publicized experiences. Australia and Japan now
filter (Japan on mobile phones) to ‘protect minors’. Other countries filter
based on political or social content. When does the mission creep begin?
Although these incidents may not be seen as the very real breaking of
net neutrality, it may only be the beginning. Comcast is a major content
provider of entertainment. What happens if you decide to rent and download
a movie online from another entertainment company? Netflex for example.
Comcast can throttle your speed or terminate the Netflex connection. Verizon
and AT&T are telcos. If you choose to make voice calls using Skype
for instance, Verizon or AT&T can throttle your speed or terminate
the connection. This discourages (or may at a later date) prevent someone
from using the service or product of their choice because it is their providers
Some may setup web cameras to watch their children, nanny, pet or property
which could stay on much of the time. Will this connection be terminated
because too many packets are used? What applications in the future (presently
developed or not) might have interference by ISPs?
Presently there is some research in progress, not just with P2P, including
net radio and other applications. Your provider does not want you to know
what is going on with ‘traffic shaping’. This research causes the information
to be available to the public. Customers would be much happier knowing
the true terms of service. In any other industry or business, are you buying
a pig in a poke? To change on the whim of the provider?
A huge issue is the ISP sells an ‘all you can eat’ service of all packets,
while the reality is different and secret. The FCC announced January
9 it will actively investigate complaints about Comcast interfering in
Net neutrality is a very important issue. The decisions made now will
effect service for many years. It is being discussed in many venues to
find possible solutions. Right now, ISPs honesty would be welcomed.
Would you know if your ISP interfered with your online experiences?
Give your comments on this important issue using the comments form of this post