Net Neutrality, Bandwidth Hogs and the ISP’s

3 12 2009

Netzians can easily be drawn into a heated argument regarding Net Neutrality, so what is it and do we want it?

Definition

An underlying principle of Net Neutrality is that as a consumer we will not have our internet access hindered based on where we go, what equipment we attach to the internet or what type of internet services we use. (Here’s a definition). Sounds like a good idea? Or is it?

Legislate or not?

To ensure Net Neutrality legally would require legislation and regulation of the internet providers and websites. Do we really need the government telling us what we can and cannot do on the internet? Legislation can be made to sound good, such as the Internet Freedom Act, who would vote against that? Censorship isn’t freedom.

So why not just leave it alone, isn’t it already neutral? In some cases no it is not neutral, ISP’s are increasingly using ‘Deep Packet inspection’ to examine the traffic coming from and towards your home. If they see something they don’t like they could potentially stop it or degrade it. Examples of this are Comcast blocking of  Bittorrent, or Shaw Cable degrading Vonage phone calls (unless their customers pay an extra fee).

Greed on both sides.

BitTorrent users can consume large amounts of internet bandwidth downloading and uploading files. This can and does reduce speeds for everyone. So the ISP’s claim they have the right to manage the bandwidth hogs. One is inclined to agree, however their methods are questionable. Why filter types of traffic? Why not just curtail the bandwidth hogs directly by capping, cutting them off or simply charge them for the abuse? The answer in my opinion is that Movies and TV shows are often transmitted via BitTorrent, so cable companies don’t like that, so they target it directly under the guise of network management to control the Bandwidth hogs, but really it is plain anti-competitive behavior. Why would Shaw degrade Vonage traffic? Maybe because they sell a competing product and don’t appreciate their internet service being used to compete with another service of theirs.

Legislate and we are dealing with the government and its agencies (Big Brother). Don’t legislate and we are dealing with large greedy corporations. What to do?

What  is the root cause?…..

The *real problem* IMHO is conflict of interest at the large ISP’s. Not only do they provide internet access they also provide content and services on the internet. The temptation to boost your own services or hinder your competitions will always be there. The more money involved in an internet service segment, the greater the temptation. Inevitably an ISP  will monkey with the traffic across its network to serve its own interests.

..and a solution…..?

A *reasonable solution* IMHO is to separate the provision of internet to homes and businesses from the content and service provision. In the telephone industry the Bells have to run a legally separate internet company from their telephone company. Should the Bells favor their internet company over another, the FCC will soon find out from their competition. In a similar way companies like Comcast, Shaw etc should be forced to deliver and sell internet separately from the provision of TV, Movies and Phone services. The conflicts of interest must be eliminated.

Eliminating conflicts of interest should allow for a reasonably Neutral net without the need for specific legislation of the traffic to try and ensure it. That way we can keep the government away from legislating what can happen or not happen on the internet itself. The temptation for the government to censor the internet is too great to allow them to decide what goes over it. Let’s not legislate the traffic, regulate the large ISP’s instead to ensure fair play.

Fingers Crossed

It’ll be interesting to see how the US deals with this issue. Hopefully sanity will prevail.

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