Net NeutralityI spend a lot of my time shielding non-technical people from the frankly mundane and indecipherable bowels of information technology. But some things that are so important that you need to stop, dear reader, and take the time to understand. Internet neutrality is one of these things.

At the moment, most of the internet protocol (IP) traffic heading to and from your computer makes its way, unimpeded, to and from its intended destination. There is however an undercurrent of discontent coming from a bunch of companies that operate the systems (the “backbone”) that carry IP traffic between you and your favourite websites.

Strangely, these companies are already being paid by all parties. Your ISP pays for the right to send your data to and from their systems – this is a significant part of your monthly bill. At the other end, a company like Google or Flickr pays one of these “backbone” companies to provide a large stream of data made up of thousands of data streams like yours. Even a small-fry like me pays my web hosting company to carry data to and from my server.

Yet apparently, these backbone service providers feel hard done by. Sometimes, due to the vagaries of IP routing, traffic from my PC to a destination website might travel over a third party’s network. These parties feel that if a company like Google is not paying them directly for carrying data to and from your PC, that they should alter the level of service. The little picture I have linked to gives you an idea of a world without IP traffic neutrality. Think Sky TV, but the “channels” are actually your favourite websites – who are already paying for the privilege of being connected to the internet.

It sounds far fetched, but right now companies are lobbying various governments for the right to impose different levels of service on different types of traffic, or different destination websites. Mundane yes; but definitely important. I hope that when the time comes to oppose such measures, you can do so with some understanding based on this blog post.

[via CrunchGear]

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  1. People (well, businesses at least) can already pay for assured or expedited forwarding from tier 0/1/2 providers. While the risky business ethics of pay-per site (I need a better name for it, but it’s 6am) is a worry, QoS measures for large chunks of the interbutt already remove pure neutrality – for the best in most cases. What I mean is there is hope than your ISP ends up shifting the proposed (have any been proposed yet?) costs of PPS onto themselves. It will require a bit of re-organisation, but to keep the whole net ticking into the future (bearing in mind the limited infrastructure some networks have), a bit of non-purely neutral routing and other such jiggery-pokery will be required.

    /has the feeling reading this in 6 hours time will be a laugh

  2. You make an interesting point. Voice is already heavily prioritised, and bittorrent is likely de-prioritised on most networks.

    My personal opinion: as long as traffic type prioritisation is completely up front and transparent, and not filtered by destination, then it’s not entirely evil. You still have the option of choosing a neutral ISP.

    But what about backbone providers? If I choose an ISP that does not prioritise anything, my traffic still gets shaped by those providers. It’s a proverbial can-o-worms.

  3. @Ben
    At the end of the day, it comes down to what kind of traffic you want. If sites like youtube which use UDP and don’t give a care as to the order of packets arriving can survive in a purely best-effort environment – they will.

    Voice and live video will require more nimble and latency-nazi style flows, and we *will* end up paying more for it, it’s the nature of economics. The sad fact is that where money is to be made, even in the open and free wilds of the internet, it will be made.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the future of the net will be a bit of a debacle, it’s not an easy thing to explain and switched on companies will be taking advantage of that fact.

    Blergh, I have to get my head away from work and go see Evil play. Woooh!

  4. Is anyone else rather disturbed by this as I am?

    Surely freedom of speech is equitable to freedom of what websites you look at?

    I have had a few discussions with friends about Orcon’s O-Zone, which without paying does give obvious priority to certain sites, is that a breach of net neutrality? How does everyone else feel about this?

    I do not look forward to a future where my ISP controls where I browse in the same way as a school/university does! (wait, is that a breach too? :P)

  5. Interesting read,

    Out of interest then, what would be your choice for ISP in NZ?

    I’m a Telstra Cable man myself here in CHCH, excellent speed, reliability, up/down stream, and excellent latency.

    And best of all…It’s got nothing to do with Telecom and their old fashioned Copperlines paid for by the tax payer years ago.

    If I wasn’t on Cable, I’d probably be heading for Snap.

    In your opinion…say 20 years down the track when the internet has been further compromised, are there alternatives that could be implemented that allow for a remaining neutral network amongst the many?

    Maybe there needs to be a competitor to the current internet? Create some Neutral competition?

    IPv7 per chance?

    Freedom of speech is so heavily restricted today as it is, so to read that net neutrality in NZ ‘is dead’, is particularly unsettling.

    Imagine if we all had no alternative to TV1/TV3/TVNZ/Fairfax media for the news…

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