Evil Internet Companies?

I’m not so sure; in fact, I tend not to think so.

After all, the net works much like any other service/product.  Companies wanna profit from it.  And the best way to profit is to make it as good and fast and available as possible.

However, not everyone agrees with me.

Take my online neighbor for example.  A couple of days ago, Moe  over at Whatever Works, stopped by my place and shared an article dealing with two internet giants, Verizon and Google, making an agreement.  From the tone of her quick note, I got the distinct impression that she wasn’t happy with the goings on of these two companies.

So, it turns out that some companies would like to have their content prioritized over other types of traffic:

WASHINGTON — Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly…

Now, I’m not sure if THAT is the main beef or if the next part is:

…if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

And to be very fair, even that might not be the complaint, it could be:

The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

I’m not sure, it could be any one of the above or some combination of all three.

I’ve talked net neutrality over the years with folks and I always walk away thinking that we really aren’t using common language.  That somehow, what I’m talkin’ about ain’t what they are talkin’ about.

In the end, I think the main gist of what the net neutral folks are scared of is that internet providers will either block competitor’s traffic, slow down the websites of those who don’t pay extra or create tiers of offerings like cable companies do today.  In some ways I resonate with these arguments and in others it’s simply nonsensical fear.

First, right away.  Internet providers will not block competitors applications or data or web traffic.  There is no way that AT&T is going to block traffic from Verizon.  Or that Time Warner will all of a sudden make Comcast.com a black hole.  These massive providers allow the free flow of traffic across their networks today.  This is evidenced by the fact that cell phone calls as well as traditional land line phones ALL work.  And always will.  Do you hear of some crazy small little corner player that blocks some form of VoIP so that their customers have to purchase their own version?  Sure, but they are identified and bonked over the head quickly enough.

This fear is totally unfounded.  The idea or concept is justified, but it just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Next, certain websites want their content to be delivered quicker than others.  Again, at first blush, this sounds like the big guys get the advantage while my personal slice of the interweb gets stuck in the backwaters.

Again, not true.

The internet is like a water hose.  You can only get so much in so fast.  And just like a hose, it has two ends; yours at your house and the website’s at their data center.  When these companies pay this extra money for “faster service” they are really only buying a bigger hose at their end.  And this makes sense.  Take this site for example, people flock here by the hundreds ones and twos.  In order to deliver the content of this site, I really only need a very modest “hose” on my side; I simply am not pushing a ton of traffic.  CNN.com?  A WHOLE different story.  They have massive amounts of hits and require significant amounts capacity.  So, in order to accommodate that, they buy a bigger hose on their end.  All this does is allow CNN.com to get their content into the web faster than if they had to push it all through some tiny little garden hose.

In the end, do you notice?  No.  My site renders just as fast as CNN.  This is true even as CNN buys massive amounts of internet capacity.

The other concept, that one site’s traffic will get “priority” over another?  THAT’S good too!

Consider an e-mail from grandma vs. a live two-way video chat with grandma.

In the first case, the e-mail, she sits and types and when finished, hits send.  The interweb breaks down that message into tiny packets and sends ’em over the wires to your house.  Where, upon arrival, your PC puts them back together again to form an incoming mail.  Easy.  But….BUT, it doesn’t REALLY matter if you get that e-mail right away or 10 seconds from now; a HUGE amount of time in interweb speak.  E-mail is a LOW priority application.  A small delay is acceptable AND it doesn’t matter if those little packets come out-of-order; your computer can put them back together later.

The live two-way chat.  A whole different story.  Here, even a small delay can make the conversation frustrating.  Frustrating to the point that it’s unusable.  You don’t want your voice to hiss or pop, to wobble or experience jitter.  Further, timing is everything.  You NEED to have those little data packets arrive quickly AND in order.  Streaming chat/video is a HIGH priority application.

So, in order to allow for innovative products like Google chat, the internet providers have built-in mechanisms that allow for certain traffic to take priority over another.  And they charge for this.  And this is a GOOD thing.  For grandmas the world over.

Is this only available to large meg companies?  No.  it is available to anyone and everyone.  In exactly the same way that a mom and pop book seller can send their books via the USPS or, OR, they can send it via FedEx Next Day Air.  Just like Amazon.  Does Amazon sell more books?  Sure, but they pay way more money.  Does Amazon pay to have their books delivered in a manner that prioritizes them in ways that normal delivers aren’t?  Sure.  But so can you.

And, accordingly, Amazon will charge you for that service; they’ll pass it on.  Just like Google will pass it on, in some way, when you use Google Video Chat.

Last, pricing.

Again, the concept is theoretically possible but simply will not happen.  The idea that internet providers will bundle certain websites into tiers is just a story that mothers use to scare their children at night.

However, what we WILL see is usage tiering.  Right now I can send and receive as much traffic here at home as I want; same fee.  If I upload these simple websites, same fee.  If I post 500 pictures from my vacation; same fee.  Or, if I stream live web cams of the kids; same fee.

What’s happening is that the innovation occurring is taking up so much space that providers can’t keep up with the cost; they need capital to build and maintain their networks.  So, they are going to charge per drink; per usage.  Johnny down the street playin’ his on-line internet zombie game for 16 hours?  Extra charge.  Me posting my little blog?  No extra charge.

This isn’t unreasonable.  Any more than having to buy the amount of gas you use is unreasonable.

Net Neutrality.

A very ugly ogre indeed.  But just like the ogres in the fairy tales, it is make believe.

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