Understanding network neutrality

Network neutrality is about treating all kinds of traffic equally — throttling competition equates to extortion.

Gtown_at_Night

I’d like to make a few very brief points about net neutrality. For most readers of Radar, there’s probably nothing new here, but they address confusions that I’ve seen.

  • Network neutrality isn’t about the bandwidth that Internet service providers deliver to your home. ISPs can charge more for more bandwidth, same as always.
  • Nor is network neutrality about the bandwidth that Internet service providers deliver to information providers. Again, ISPs can charge more for more bandwidth, same as always. You’d better believe that Google pays a lot more for Internet service than your local online store.
  • Nor is network neutrality about ISPs dealing with congestion. Network providers have always dealt with congestion — in the worst case, by dropping traffic. Remember the “fast busy” signal on the phone? That’s the network dealing with congestion.
  • Network neutrality is entirely about treating all kinds of traffic equally. Video is the same as voice, the same as Facebook, the same as Amazon. Your ISP cannot penalize video traffic (or some other kind of traffic) because they’d like to get into that business or because they’re already in that business. In other words: when you buy Internet connectivity, you can use it for whatever you want. Your provider can’t tell you what kind of business to be in.

That last point deserves a closer look. In most of the United States, high speed Internet access is offered by a company that is also selling video services (i.e., cable TV). These same service providers would like to penalize companies, like Netflix, that they perceive as competition. And they are doing just that.

In this context, “you can pay us more to get into the fast lane” looks an awful lot like: “Nice business you have there. It would be too bad if something unfortunate happened to it. We’d be glad to sell you, uh, protection.” That’s not competition; that’s extortion. And it’s usually illegal.

The comment period for the FCC has been extended three times: from July 15 to July 18th to September 10th, and now to September 15th. File your comments with the FCC and your elected representatives, either directly with the FCC or via an organization such as Battle for the Net.

Cropped image on article and category pages by Paul Aloe on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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  • gerv

    “Network neutrality is entirely about treating all kinds of traffic
    equally. Video is the same as voice, the same as Facebook, the same as
    Amazon. Your ISP cannot penalize video traffic (or some other kind of
    traffic) because they’d like to get into that business or because
    they’re already in that business.”

    No. I _want_ my VoIP packets to be prioritized over my email packets (heck, and everyone else’s email packets). Don’t you? Time-sensitive traffic is more important than things that can wait a few seconds (or milliseconds). That’s basic sane network management.

    Network neutrality is _not_ about treating video the same as voice the same as email, it’s about treating _all_ video the same. In other words, Netflix doesn’t get slow just because my ISP offers ISPFlix and wants me to buy it. It’s about neutral treatment within the same class or type of traffic. No discrimination by endpoint.

    • Michael Stern

      I respect your opinion on the matter, but find that I have to disagree with your fundamental points.

      As much as you want your ISP to give your (anyones) voice packets priority over your (anyones) email packets, that in and of itself is applying discrimination when prioritizing traffic, and thats exactly what net neutrality is meant to prevent. Further, how would an ISP know that a certain UDP stream was voice, and as such should get priority in the first place? It can’t. At least not practically.

      If you want to apply traffic shaping to your voice packets, get a dedicated circuit. That’s what they are for. I would rather an ISP take as neutral an approach as possible when carrying my data.

      • gerv

        “and thats exactly what net neutrality is meant to prevent”.

        You’re begging the question there. I don’t think net neutrality is designed to prevent real-time traffic being prioritized over non-real-time traffic. I think it’s supposed to prevent ISPflix being prioritized over Netflix or Otherflix.

        How do you tell the difference? That’s what TCP port numbers are supposed to be for.

        “If you want to apply traffic shaping to your voice packets, get a dedicated circuit.”

        Right, because those are available at reasonable cost everywhere :-)