Net neutrality is a real hot-button issue for a large swath of Internet users and for good reason. The happy accident of interconnected networks and free flow of information has lead to a lot of useful and creative uses of the world’s largest network. That said, it seems that far too many proponents have added a whole host of other issues under the banner of net neutrality, diluting its value and entangling what should rightfully be separate issues. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Net neutrality is, simply put, not treating a particular application or destination differently than any other. A clear violation would be if Comcast degraded access to Hulu in order to promote Fancast or preserve its own video product. Another clear violation would be charging to not degrade access to particular applications or destinations. It wouldn’t be a violation, though, for a company to pay for priority access. Unfortunately, a bunch of zealots with their particular version of how things should be have started to attack any network management scheme or transfer cap as violating net neutrality. I’m not saying that their anger isn’t justified, but I am saying that what they’re talking about is often unrelated to network neutrality at all.
Network mangement schemes can be considered a net neutrality problem if they affect traffic in an adverse way with no particular rhyme or reason. Unfortunately, the people who have jumped all over Cox for their network management plans either don’t know what they’re talking about or are intentially obfuscating the issue. Since the plan only kicks in when the network is saturated, you’re still able to use your connection for whatever you want without delay during all 20 other non-peak hours. Even when you’re during peak hours, those types of traffic that get bumped to a lower priority are simply delayed, not blocked. And the delays? They are frequently under 100ms, far less than you’re likely to notice.
Even if you totally abandon network management, you’ll still get reamed for it. Comcast decided to just delay all of the traffic on your port if the network is congested and you happen to be the reason why. It seemed all good and fair to me, then the FCC started raising Cain that VoIP traffic from competing carriers would be held up. What’s Comcast to do? If they ignore protocols, they get reamed. If they degrade only certain protocols, they get reamed. You can’t have it both ways, guys. If you’re using a disproportionate amount of bandwidth to the detriment of dozens of your neighbors, it’s only fair to give your traffic a lower priority. Now pick your poison as to how that’s going to happen or, for goodness sakes, lay off the BitTorrent until off-peak hours.
I really get steamed whenever someone tries to confuse transfer caps as network neutrality. Here’s a news flash: the old pricing models where casual users subsidize the heavy used is over. Dead. Gone. Finished. Stick a fork in it; it’s done. It has nothing to do with degrading protocols and everything to do with who should pay for network usage. My water bill has a base charge that includes a certain amount of monthly water usage. If I go over, I pay for the overage. I don’t expect my neighbor to pay for my long showers under my new rain shower head or my green lawn. Why on earth should broadband be different somehow?
The problem is that unless you’re providing an uncapped, unmanaged 100Mbps connection at DSL prices, the vast majority of the allegedly l33t get their panties in a twist and start crying. They don’t seem to get that someone has to end up paying for the bandwidth and the old model of asking light users to subsidize heavy users isn’t terribly fair or even sustainable anymore. Net neutrality is just what most of them duck behind so they don’t look like selfish dipsticks.
Truly oppressive network management schemes are worth fight about. So are pitifully low transfer caps. (I’m looking at you, Time Warner, Frontier and AT&T.) But for the good of REAL net neutrality, stop abusing the term and co-mingling with other issues. It really isn’t helping.