Sunday, February 19, 2006

The End of the Internet?

BellWest Network Neutrality
Another fantastic "deal" from BellWest

I've devoted most of the past week's blog posts to cover the battle raging over "network neutrality." Not to put too serious of a face on it, but the future of the Internet is at risk if network neutrality is permitted to die.

The term refers to the concept that telephone companies, cable providers, and other carriers should not inspect, filter, delay or otherwise discriminate against different types of Internet traffic. That's how the Internet works today. But it may not be how the Internet works tomorrow, if the carriers get their way.

The advertisement at right -- a hypothetical telco ad from the future -- implies what might be in the cards for consumers if network neutrality is killed off. In other words, customers might only get to run applications approved by the carriers. Not only would that result in dramatically higher costs for consumers and businesses, but many speculate it would seriously hamper innovation. In my first blog post on the topic, I described what it might mean to consumers. Example: say our friendly RBOC BellWest creates their own search engine. To improve its relative performance, they intentionally delay search results from Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Sound crazy? The network hardware vendors don't seem to think so.

What's the Evidence?

In my second post on the topic, I described the hardware Cisco and other networking vendors are hawking to the carriers. This hardware is designed to analyze, filter, meter, and/or otherwise meddle with Internet traffic to financially benefit the carriers.

In my third post, I took on the argument that the carriers have offered regarding their need to prioritize traffic. They contend that prioritization is required in order to deliver high-quality voice and HDTV streams to consumers. But is that argument valid? Recent experiences with the new network backbone called "Internet2" indicate that, indeed, it is not. In fact, it appears that "best effort" packet delivery over high-speed networks results in more than acceptable performance for HDTV streams and other rich content.

In my fourth post, I addressed what I believe is the carriers' flawed business case. Let's say that the carriers actually pull off a coup and kill network neutrality in order to hatch their new business models. In doing so, they carefully meter and filter customer behavior. My assertion is that -- as the Chinese government has discovered -- customers' Internet usage is difficult, if not impossible, to police. Software platforms like Tor, SSL VPNs, and OpenVPN render packet inspection and filtering well nigh impossible.

Most recently, I asked three simple questions that the carriers should answer before they are permitted to violate network neutrality. Hopefully, someone at the FCC will require the carriers to answer these questions before pulling the plug on network neutrality.

Here's how to help preserve network neutrality

Interested in helping to preserve a free Internet? Get involved by signing a petition that business and Congressional leaders will see. And get the message out.

1 comment:

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