Thursday, June 15, 2006

Network Neutrality

What can I say? I'm for it!

Seriously, this seems like a no-brainer to me. But various greedy parties want to grab and keep control over your use of the 'Net. The TelCos, CableCos and other large ISPs seem to want to be able to prevent you from buying bandwidth and using it as you please, regardless of the source/destination or content of your packets.

An ISP's treatment of a packet should not depend on whether it is going to/from Google, Amazon, or MyWay. The sender and recipient are each paying for bandwidth on their respective ends, and all the intermediate organizations/ISPs are paying for their connections, too. As far as routine packets go, they should not be prioritized by content, at least not when they travel over network segments that require rights of way granted by the government or utilize the public airwaves.

Yeah, yeah, the mind boggles at the number of oh-so-reasonable exceptions that might be made to that rule -- what should constitute non-routine packets? What about the 'Net equivalent of 911 calls or the Emergency Broadcast System? But what about the ordinary traffic of John and Jane Doe as they blog, Google, share music, buy/sell stuff on eBay, UL/DL porn, listen to talk radio shows online, view RSS feeds and old Sopranos clips, etc? What about the business person who is paying for 'Net access in order to communicate with (potential) customers?

I was very glad to spot the following wonderful analogy on another blog (see: ):

'If phone companies thought they could get away with it, you'd have this: "I'm sorry, all circuits to Domino's Pizza are currently busy. Would you like to be connected to our preferred pizza provider instead?"
-- mdubinko'

Mr. Dubinko really cuts to the heart of the matter. I wish I had thought of such a succinct summary of the issue. Just as you don't expect your phone service provider to care much about who you call (what numbers you dial (when is the last time you actually "dialed" or "hung up" a phone, anyway -- the terminology is becoming archaic!) or what you say during a phone conversation, you shouldn't have to worry about the source, destination, or content of your packets affecting the way they travel over the 'Net.

I hear people crying, "But what about the calling circles and friends lists I have with my cellular phone service?" Yeah, so what? I'm fairly sure that since the PSTN has become a packet switching network, TelCos can assign calls various priority levels, but so far, I don't expect it to cost me any more to call and talk with a person at one phone number in a given area than it does to talk with their neighbor, unless we have chosen to join some special calling plan or if local versus long-distance boundary effects come into play. It won't cost me more or less to call Barnes and Noble than it will to call Borders or the used book store in the same town. If I call up a Cingular store using my Verizon (Verizoff would be more appropriate) Wireless phone, the call will go through the same as if I called a Verizon store; so I, perhaps naively, believe.

What is to be avoided is any kind of multi-tier scheme imposed on general 'Net access by greedy ISPs. They should provide bandwidth to anyone willing to pay for it, measured in bits per unit of time, independent of how that bandwidth gets used or where the packets are routed (within applicable laws -- I do not condone spamming, DoS attacks, malicious hacking, etc.)

Companies such as Google already buy huge amounts of bandwidth and I would expect them to pay less per unit for it than I do, just as banks that buy thousands of logo pens to give away as promotions pay less per pen than I do.

When cellular phone companies set up special calling plans, they are essentially creating VPNs with special features. I have no problem with ISPs that do similar things, as long as they do not disrupt or degrade regular Internet traffic involving people and organizations outside their plans.

I hope to see Network Neutrality become the law of the land, despite the inclination of corrupt politicians to work in the best interests of big ISPs and other groups which fund their expensive campaigns. Access to basic services (utilities) should be allocated fairly to all. Utilities that provide electricity, gas, water, and sewer services don't generally discriminate except for volume discounts which are available to all consumers of given quantities AFAIK, so why should big, bloated ISPs be able to discriminate except when economies of scale make doing so on an otherwise impartial basis a reasonable way of setting prices?

Keep Network Neutrality as a basic underlying principle of the operation of the Internet!


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