Understanding "Network Neutrality"
Much of the press coverage around the issue of Network Neutrality is confused by the fact that not all Internet connections are the same.
Every network connection is between two endpoints. As an ISP subscriber, I am expected to pay for my end of the connection. By paying more, I can expect to get better performance on my end. The local network infrastructure is paid for by the network subscribers. Since I am paying for my end of the connection, I should have some freedom to regulate or control how it is used.
The pragmatic compromise between commercial and non-commercial use of the shared Internet has always been that the user decides what services they wish to use and what information they wish to receive, not the underlying network carrier.
The issue of Network Neutrality is about whether ISPs should be allowed to tax or charge content providers on the OTHER END of the connection for access to "their" customers. In other words, can they double-dip by charging both the local subscriber for the facilities provided, and the remote content provider for access to the same facilities the local subscriber has also paid for. Should the telcos be allowed to setup toll booths in order to tax or limit what content is available?
Until we consider each end of the connection to the shared Internet separately, we will remain hopelessly confused around Network Neutrality. Requiring Network Neutrality is not imposing regulation, but maintaining the Internet status quo of self regulation by the network users.
If we as Internet users allow someone else to pay for our end of the network, we will gradually lose control over it.
Is there a Constructive Compromise?
I believe there is.
On one side, you have legitimate high bandwidth applications that might (or might not) benefit from tiered QoS. On the other side, you have legitimate engineering concerns around centralized management and control, which suggests that adding intelligence to the network core may actually be counter productive.
The End of the End-to-End Model
The Rise of the Stupid Network
Finally there's the issue of fair competition. Telcos want "deregulation" until it threatens their monopoly, then they want regulation to protect their monopoly as illustrated by their response to municipal WiFi networks.
Will Congress Ban Municipal WiFi?
I'm open to network operators offering some premium QoS services as long as there are reasonable reserve requirements. Suppose premium bandwidth services were permitted to use no more than 50% of any network path. The telcos could sell their premium services without compromising the integrity of other non-premium services.
The problem I have is with allowing network operators to control who can do what without paying an unregulated premium, or double-dipping by charging the user for network facilities, and then charging content providers for access to "their" customers.
If QoS adds real value, fine, let the market decide. Just don't allow it to be used as a mechanism to shake down content providers for protection money.
- Peter Sichel
psichel "at" sustworks "dot" com
Last updated 6-Jul-2006.
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