I found this blog post on net neutrality to be a pretty good, unbiased overview of the debate. I’m actually somewhat undecided on the issue. The cons are pretty obvious. If ISPs are allowed to create different tiers for different kinds of Internet traffic, this will end up being a threat to the kind of innovation that has so far characterized the Internet and made all of our lives better. But there are also some potential upsides to a tiered approach to bandwidth because not all packets1 are equal. As a consumer, I would be interested in treating packets for VOIP and gaming traffic as higher-priority (lower-latency) than packets for video streaming (high latency). You can’t really do that under the current system.
I think it’s possible that something more nuanced than complete and total net neutrality (all packets are treated identically) might be in order, but I’m not sure I trust regulators to be able to come up with reasonable, simple rules that give consumers more flexibility without introducing easy ways for people to game the system. I support net neutrality for now, but only as a kind of “least bad” alternative. I just can’t get all excited about the ideology of the argument.
8 thoughts on “An Objective Net Neutrality Overview”
The problem I have is that the companies will game the system just as badly or worse than anyone else, and then turn around and shift blame to companies like Hulu who refuses to sign a contract with Comcast. So Comcast makes sure to reduce the speed available for traffic to Hulu, versus Netflix who did sign a contract with Comcast.
Why is that an issue to me? I was under the impression that I was paying for best effort services. Reducing the speed on traffic from a content provider on purpose is not best effort services. Not to mention, I was also under the impression that I was paying for access to that content as so long as I wasn’t trying to pull in a massive (above 250 GB per month) amount of traffic to just my connection, there is no reason for any traffic to be reduced in speed at all.
The ISPs want to be able to reduce the speed on content that competes with their own provided content, or push people to pay even more than they currently are for better access to ‘other’ content. The regulators aren’t exactly going against this either.
Regulation of network traffic should require that all ‘types’ be treated similarly, whether traffic is generated by content from the provider, or from outside the provider (meaning Comcast can’t treat Hulu any different than Netflix). To me, tiered service is the equivalent of paying more for higher bandwidth speeds overall. This should include video streaming as well as just surfing or downloading/uploading files to the internet.
I have no issues paying for service, but don’t pretend to me that you’re providing best effort services and then regulating down one particular content provider because you can’t make money off of them like you want to.
The market will deal with whatever regulation comes along either way. I have faith in the genius of people in a somewhat free market to come up with ways to beat whatever is finalized to allow for innovation. Encouraging competition is another matter. I live in an area where the options available are full on satellite (not much of an option especially during winter months), dial up (umm..just no), DSL which maxes out at 6 MB, and one cable company. That’s not really competition to me, since the only one that provides fast enough speeds for my wife to work at home is the cable company.
Did I mention that they are now telling us that next month our bill is going to more than double because they no longer offer our speed at all? Oh and not only that, there is no longer an internet only plan, we are required to have TV with it despite our lack of interest in that option.
I have little to no sympathy for ISPs and I have worked for 2, neither of them major competitors but they were still ISPs. Especially when you’re telling me I no longer have the choice of paying for only the service I want, and charging me a whole lot more than what I have been paying.
As a side note, yes they are doubling our downstream and I’m fine with paying more for that despite the fact that we don’t actually need it. That being said, I know that even with that ‘double’ speed we will still have issues when streaming Hulu at 1 mbps despite having the obvious speed abilities to do so. THAT is what makes me say ‘wtf’….
I am in IT, so I actually understand this technology. The issue here is that they want to have unregulated permission to prioritize traffic. What they should be allowed to do is to regulate traffic by the TYPE instead of by the source or destination. Of course, this wouldn’t allow them to make as much money or proffer as much control, which is why they haven’t been considering this option.
Overall ideology aside, if we were to see prioritization of types, I would be disappointed to see gaming placed above video streaming. Now, that’s just because I have never done any gaming and we use Netflix for all our viewing. I also don’t use VOIP services, so I don’t have any stake in seeing that prioritized. But I can see how that would be a more important service to the collective good than video streaming.
How do we make any decisions about priority when individuals have such vastly differing personal priorities? I wonder if the fairest (not best) way wouldn’t be analyze the total percentage of traffic making each up type and assign the priority in proportion to total volume. Volume seems to be the best way to determine what the majority of users value.
If you want to dive into a total thread hijack, I would love to hear your personal views of the question raised in the second paragraph. Is it even possible for a group of diverse individuals to make value-based decisions fairly?
That’s what I lean towards myself. My only hesitation there is that there might be new technologies that would be able to be targeted by packet type. In general, though, this is exactly what I’m thinking of.
First, a quick technical point. The reason I’d prioritize gaming / VOIP over streaming is that they are sensitive to latency. Video streaming should be unaffected because it already relies on a fairly large buffer and is therefore resistant to individual packets being bumped around in the priority queue.
Second, I don’t think that we should legislate this at all. Like Tyler, I suggest that we allow ISPs to treat packets differently based on packet type (but not source, destination, or content). In that case, it would be a matter of market forces between customers and providers to figure out where to set that price. Ideally this would allow an amount of leeway for individual consumers to pay more (or less) based on their usage.
I definitely think you’re right: consumers are in danger of being squished while the titans go to war with each other. I think, for not at least, consumers tend to side much more with content providers (like Hulu or Netflix) rather than with Internet providers, and that’s probably why there’s been more power on the Net Neutrality side of the equation.
I’d prefer to see some good, sane competition on just latency but if we can’t get that I’ll err on the side of total net neutrality.
Nathaniel, I am in the internet business, and the historical fact that few people consider is that businesses have been negotiating with each other quite well for more than two decades now without government interference. If we take the worst case scenario — some scary duopolist tries to block/degrade certain traffic — we must consider that IP does a very good job of getting around these types of problems. Demand does a very good job of creating its own supply. This is why we are seeing Netflix, for example, begin to negotiate with internet providers in a way that benefits both parties. (Keep in mind that Netflix is, in effect, a competitor to Comcast and Time Warner and AT&T and Verizon, yet they are not blocking Netflix but in fact allowing it to keep on streaming). There is no reason for government regulation of any kind — the market will work things out in the end.
“If ISPs are allowed to create different tiers for different kinds of Internet traffic, this will end up being a threat to the kind of innovation that has so far characterized the Internet and made all of our lives better.” I tend to disagree. If everyone had to have the same computer screen width (“screen neutrality”) and therefore pay nothing or only always the same amount for a computer screen as anyone else – would that have helped the Internet, computing, innovation? I doubt it. This is just a phantasy no one challenges although it is obviously rather the other way around. Of course I prefer net neutrality if I don’t have to pay for it. But in general we DO pay for such things because some innovations, unpaid for, never get installed and then … never make it to the masses.
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