I 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.