Okay, so, the FCC gets beat by the law. And people across the country are screaming that this is a blow to “net neutrality”. So I thought maybe it’s high time we discuss what, exactly, net neutrality really is.
And what it’s not.
Many consumer groups are advocating the concept of “Net Neutrality”. And while their intentions are good, even noble, I think that they are missing some very critical points. First, however, where they are right.
Currently when you sign up for internet access, you are given a connection to the whole world wide web, restriction free. You are free to access cnn.com, or espn.com or even my humble little site, tarheelred.wordpress.com. No one is restricting you and no one is even limiting your access. There are no tiers “packages” that you have to purchase. For example, there is no concept whereby you get internet sites A, B and C for the basic price, then get internet sites D, E and F for the intermediate price and full access to all sites with the top package.
And this is how it should be.. Everyone agrees; service or internet providers as well.
In this regard, the proponents of Net Neutrality have it right.
But they are wrong on two other counts.
1. How providers treat traffic in their network
2. How providers charge for access.
Let’s start with the 2nd case; how providers charge.
Data networks are built and maintained by corporations. They do this for the chance to sell access to that network to people and businesses. Which, of course, is to make a profit. These companies will lose customers if that service is choppy, slow or unpredictable. Therefore, it is in the service provider’s best interest to deliver the fastest, smooth and stable network they can. And that means policing the use of their network by a few folks that could impact the service for everyone else.
For example, I live next door to a kid in high school. He loves to game online.. And when he does, he uses immense amounts of bandwidth. If he’s the only one on the block that does this, it prolly doesn’t matter. But if you get 2-3-4 other folks doing the same thing, soon, I am unable to access my own internet needs. One way to accommodate this situation is to charge those folks more money. This will accomplish two things. First it will act as a natural and self enforcing throttle. Second, it will allow the provider the signal and means to upgrade network capacity in that area.
Now, for the larger point, Point #1.
Some network applications work just fine when they go across that network in a slow and random manner. E-mail, for example, works just fine. When my brother sends me a note via e-mail, I lose nothing if it takes 1.2 seconds vs. .8 seconds. Even if that note takes 2 minutes, nothing really bad happens.
Now consider voice over internet. A whole different story. I absolutely NEED the network to deliver the message very quickly and IN ORDER. Hence, the providers need to be able to prioritize the data for those applications differently. VoIP and streaming video NEED to have a higher priority than a Microsoft Update occurring at 2 am. Pure and simple.
Consider if the Post Office, selling priority mail, was forced to treat all of their packages the same. That would mean someone buying next day air would have their letter put in the same truck as the grandmother sending her grandchild a birthday card. It wouldn’t work. Either ALL mail would have to be next day air, or ALL mail would arrive in 3 days. And no one wants either of those two cases.
Net/net [hahahahaha] not one single provider is out to deny service. or to slow some competitors service. I mean, already AT&T completes calls to Verizon phones and vice versa. We already see this cooperation working. There is no reason to expect that it wouldn’t continue to do so when it comes to passing data as opposed to voice traffic.