Technology – Net neutrality

Old 3 Comments on Technology – Net neutrality 14

This is another installment of my Technology posts, geared towards those of us who are technology professionals and support users or clients.

There’s been much talk in the press about ‘net neutrality’. Congress considered legislating it, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are against it, blah blah blah. But really, what does net neutrality mean, and what does it mean to us, the consumer ?

Net neutrality essentially means that ISPs need to treat all data the same. Whether it’s a streaming Netflix video, a Skype video call, a google.ca HTTP request or the ISP’s own VoIP (Voice over IP service), the data packets need to be treated equally and not prioritized in any way, shape or form.

Now, by definition, net neutrality is a silly concept. There is data that needs to be prioritized over other data. Anything using RTP, or Real-time Transport Protocol, like VoIP phone lines, needs to be prioritized over HTTP requests. The reason for this is simple, an extra half a second on an HTTP request doesn’t get noticed by a user, and doesn’t affect the quality of the data they receive. A half a second delay on an RTP packet, like a VoIP call, can cause fragmented speech, or a loss of words. In any network, you need to be able to prioritize those services that require real-time processing.

That said, there are reasons why net neutrality isn’t a silly concept. The problem with ISPs is that the majority of them are controlled or run through legacy telecommunications companies. These telecoms became powerful corporate entities because of their historic legal monopolies. Government gave these telecom providers swathes of public tax dollars to build out infrastructure, which they then control. In the internet world, unlike the traditional landline telephone world, there are little to no government regulations and oversight. So in essence, these telecom providers are using a network that the taxpayers largely paid for, to deliver internet service that they have complete control over.

The problem here is that many telecom providers have products and services that compete with similar services available on the internet. For example, Verizon offers cable TV service. A competitor of theirs is Netflix, which offers movies and content that you can stream on-demand from the internet. So given this, it puts Verizon in a precarious position, since they also are a major ISP. If Verizon wants to promote their cable TV service and they’re losing subscribers to the cheaper Netflix, what stops them from simply putting Netflix at the bottom of their packet prioritization list ? If they can make the Netflix experience bad enough for their consumers, then maybe they can get users to switch to their cable TV service.

I’m not saying that Verizon is doing this necessarily. In all honesty, I have no idea, I don’t even live in the USA. But the point is, the telecom providers could do this, which would put them in an unfair advantage. Since they own the majority of consumer access to the internet, and because their networks were largely funded by taxpayers, I believe that we, the people, do have an inherent say in how these providers treat data packets and prioritization. I’m not sure that true, carte-blanche ‘net neutrality’ is necessarily the best answer, but I think that we do need to seriously consider some form of regulation and framework. Simply leaving the decision to the telecoms providers will ensure only one thing: their continued domination in the information industry.

Author

Martin Lehner

Martin Lehner is an technology professional working for an IT services firm in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada). He has been working in the technology field for over a decade. With a degree in Business Admin and numerous industry certifications, Martin leads a team of IT professionals that provide third party support for clients. Originally starting a company to offer web development services, Martin quickly realized that clients wanted the entire spectrum of technology services. When Martin is not at work (which is not often, since his company offers 24/7 support), he is busy at home spending time with his family.

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3 Comments

  1. Bobby Arneth August 18, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    carte blanche – complete freedom to act as one wishes or thinks best…..

    Gonna spare someone the time to look that up, it sounded neat so if I remember I’ll use it. Good read as always Martin.

  2. Mendel H. August 19, 2014 at 9:42 am

    I don’t think that the answer to a government monopoly is government regulation.
    In the net neutrality case you mentioned were Verizon was bottle-necking DSL and LTE, this only happened were the had a local monopoly. Why? Because if anyone was allowed to compete they could provide a faster service at the same cost and undercut Verizon.
    Remember that the government does not serve the people, it serves itself. And when a company has cash to pay, the government is all ears.

    • Jeff Newman August 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Republican?

      Because of complicity between various levels of government and the corporate sphere, we have local monopolies or cartels in telecommunications.

      Without government regulation, if a competitor to, say, Verizon arose, somehow the two entities would likely end up charging similar fees for similar service. Even when there’s competition among a two or more entities, the customer may still not be free to choose, greatly limiting the effect whatever competition exists.

      Allow me to provide an example.

      In New York City, we have a number of telecommunications providers for residential customers. Two of the largest for Internet are Verizon (with FiOS) and Cablevision, with their Optimum Online service. Both companies compete on price, services offered, customer service, and other factors, yet many customers are either locked into doing business with one or the other company. This may be because of past negative experience with one of them, unavailability within their building or neighborhood for service, too complex an already-installed infrastructure, etc. So there really may be little choice.

      Historically, when one company offers a new product or service – tablet connectivity, local wireless, multi-room use, VOIP, no-contract requirement, etc. — the other company follows.

      If one company started to offer Netflix a better connection at a certain price, how long do you think it would be before Netflix approached the other company (or vice versa) and started discussing a similar agreement?

      The public has too much at stake with telecommunications providers, banking, the airline industry, public utilities, etc., to leave them alone to decide what’s best for us. They have often proven in the past that the public trust is not their primary concern.

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