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dave

What the heck is net neutrality all about anyway?



(Via our friends at the Huffington Post)

It seems like hardly a day goes by without "net neutrality" being mentioned. Today, it's news that the FCC vows to defend net neutrality (www.engadget.com­/2014­/04­/29­/fcc­-chairman­-wheeler­-o...), while last week it seemed like the FCC was first in line to kill it (www.engadget.com­/2014­/04­/23­/wsj­-fcc­-net­-neutrality...).

What is net neutrality all about? It seems like a good thing, right? But what does it really mean. I'll be the first to admit that I don't fully understand this concept, and I'm sure others don't either. Let's have a friendly discussion about it.

Feel free to jump in with questions (and answers, if you know them). I'll start:
  • How does net neutrality or the lack thereof currently affect me? It seems like I'm able to access all sites and services without issue. How could I tell if my bandwidth was being negatively affected?
  • Some days it seems like the FCC is for net neutrality, and then the next day they're against it. What's happening here?

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14 replies
HughesNet

It means that your ISP and others who handle the moving of data need to treat all data packets equally and without priority. It means they can't say that this info is Netflix and so we will throttle that and this info is our iptv service so we will prioritize that.
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Rjcc

The big problem is that it's become even more complicated than that, as we've seen with Netflix. Peering agreements have always caused issues with streaming services, but the Netflix fight with ISPs is especially public.
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Dignan17

The Netflix/Comcast/Verizon peering stuff is not quite a net neutrality issue. Listen to Tuesday's Daily Tech News Show for a good summary of what's going on with that issue. It's not necessarily a bad thing going on there, more like business as usual for the internet. Those arrangements didn't have to happen if the ISPs would just upgrade their equipment, but it's not as bad as violating net neutrality.
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Rjcc

The reason why I think it's relevant is that it affects what people think of as net neutrality, not specifically what net neutrality is. Additionally, if the FCC chooses to expand what the rules cover, which seems possible based on the Chairman's comments, then it could become a direct part of the conversation.
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Dignan17

Well then that's the point of this thread, to clarify what is and isn't Net Neutrality, and your statement only confused the matter because you didn't say that it wasn't a net neutrality issue in the first place. The fact that people are confused about it is the whole problem, and the solution isn't to lump it in with the discussion. That only dilutes the debate.

And I could be wrong, but I don't think this rumored FCC proposal was touching peering agreements...
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Dignan17

It's pretty simple, actually. Net neutrality is the way things have been working for decades. Breaking it is only in the interest of the communications industry, which is where the new FCC chairman hails from. Like everything else in government these days, our elected officials are doing everything they can to help out the big corporations, without a care for the citizens. Good job, government!

The [rumored] FCC proposal is a disaster. It says that ISPs can't discriminate against traffic, but it can give a "fast lane" to companies who pay extra. That potentially ends up discriminating traffic anyway because the ISP could choose to never upgrade the slow lanes. Web startups (and even big companies) would be at a competitive disadvantage if they can't or won't pay.

Frankly, net neutrality wouldn't be as much of an issue if there were actual competition among ISPs.
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Rjcc

The problem here is that net neutrality hasn't actually excluded the possibility of said deals, and it was struck down in court. While the kneejerk spin has been "FCC is tearing apart net neutrality," I think realistically, you have to be concerned about whether or not they'll be able to enforce whatever rules exist, and we hopefully don't just end up tied up in the courts all over again and sent back to square one with nothing.

I don't know if the new proposal is a disaster or not, since I haven't read it yet and don't think I'll be able to until May 15th.
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Jkellyca

We already have some of the slowest internet in the developed world (hello South Korea! hello Estonia!). Dignan17 made a really good point about how the service providers will never upgrade the "slow lane" if this rule is allowed to pass. What you see right now is the richest content Endgadget will ever be able to give users. Same for every other content producer unwilling or unable to pay the service provider for premium speed.

I'm not confused, but I'm worried that there are no proposals to simply raise prices on all end users to develop a faster service. There is a real physical throttling point that slows down service today - the "last mile." Why is it that service providers are so keen to provide "faster" service - let's face it, PREFERRED service - to some content providers, when they don't seem all that interested in providing faster service to end users? I think this is about cntrol, and about stifling competition and innovation.

Does anyone know if any other countries have a multi-tier rate structure for content in place?
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Dignan17

"What you see right now is the richest content Endgadget will ever be able to give users."

Exactly. Sure, right now all you technically need is a good ~8Mbps per user in your household, but that's now. Before HD video we didn't need nearly that much, and we can't predict what we'll need going forward. We've already started moving email, data, photos, and videos to the cloud, and cloud gaming is getting bigger. If the ISPs don't work to increase speeds across the board it'll slow innovation and we'll fall behind as a global influencer.
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Rjcc

"What you see right now is the richest content Endgadget will ever be able to give users. Same for every other content producer unwilling or unable to pay the service provider for premium speed."

This is a question I think. I don't know the specifics, but Engadget/AOL uses CDNs just like any other large media service to get the content out. Whenever we're arguing about net neutrality, I am mindful that our blog is supported by these connections, caching and servers that not everyone has access to for say, their personal site.
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Dignan17

Indeed. The FCC proposal* just makes it harder for a little guy to get big.

*of course, the proposal I'm referring to isn't official, even though they created an email address to where you can respond to this rumored proposal...that isn't a proposal...you suck, Tom Wheeler...
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kineticartist

like everyone else above has stated the definition of "net neutrality" yet no one has stated the obvious problem...

Netflix and other Content streaming services are a threat to pay TV services because the streaming service for most part does not carry commercials...

Verizon Comcast Time Warner et al are not only internet providers who provide the access to the streaming content providers like Netflix and hulu etc they are ALSO content providers who are under the thumb of their advertisers who pay huge amount of money to force us to watch their inane commercials.

With more and more users "cutting the cable" advertisers are worried and rightly so their inane commercials arent being watched. So the "cable company" which is also your internet provider has to throttle bandwidth or charge streaming services to pass their data to you over their network....

The cable companies also see the peering negotiations as a way to make an extra buck they charge you for access to internet they charge Netflix to provide you with streaming content and they throttle bandwidth during prime time to mollify their advertisers.

so the real problem is Cable companies get it from both ends in reality an ISP shouldnt also be a Pay for TV provider... Whats the term Im looking for here...

By the way I cut the cable this month and I dont miss my FiOS Tv content one bit or their idiotic commercials
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Rjcc

I pretty much don't think this is true at all. People have repeatedly clamored for services that are free or cheaper with commercials. It's not going to go away. TV providers don't feel threatened by HBO, which doesn't have commercials anywhere, they can get by with the existence of Netflix.
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Dignan17

It's advancing technology that threatens them, not any particular business model. But it's true that if Comcast gives preferential treatment to their own streaming content, that would be a huge problem, and the FCC wouldn't have a leg to stand on if they tried to say that was OK. Fortunately we haven't seen anything so blatant.

But again, while net neutrality is important, one of the big reasons it's important is because there's no competition. Comcast can do whatever they want within the bounds of the law and there's nowhere else the customers can vote with their dollars.

In the end, though, we need competition and net neutrality. Otherwise you could get multiple ISPs who all shape their traffic in different ways.
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