Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Save the Internet

The U.S. Congress is pushing a law that would abandon the Internet's First Amendment -- a principle called Network Neutrality that prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work best for you -- based on what site pays them the most.

Net Neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With Net Neutrality, the network's only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service. Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It's why the Internet has become an unrivaled environment for open communications, civic involvement and free speech.

The Internet is currently free---the backbone networks deliver content of GE, Foxnews and the website a local bookstore with the same priority, which will no longer be true after this law. If the law is passed, one thing that might happen is, a local library would have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have its Web/E-mail content delivered quickly, else suffer non-prioritized delivery.

More info at: Save The Internet

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

puruman, i think you would serve your readers like me better if you posted the opposite view point as well. I am sure there are technology related issues here as well...like providing QoS quarantees to companies that pay higher etc.
-Ramesh

Purushottam said...

Ramesh, thanks for your comment and I will try to post both sides of the argument wehenever possible. But if you look the "news" it is all filled with the mainstream views or corportate-interest views and I did not want to repeat the same, but post the alternate take on that.
Regarding this issue, prioritized or QoS support is already available on servers, where hosting services deliver content based on the money that you can pay them. But the Internet is a bit delivery network, like a road if you will (which supposedly has equal access to all). If you make it into a commodity and put a price on each bit that gets transferred, how can a local book shop compete with Barnes & Noble---which can throw a large amount of money to shut down local services. Net neutrality, ensures that the network is a level playing field for transferring bits and service does not depend on whom the bit belongs to. I think this is just another way in the several by corporates to take control of resources, e.g., assume if the law gets passed and Foxnews buys all high priority units, then all you will be able to read on your browser is Foxnews crap! The idea of the Internet was conceived using public money (DARPA), so why should it now turned into a private-commodity?

Sharad said...

Puru,

I think your mail is a little alarmist. Here are my points:

1. Firstly, "Net Neutrality" is a concept, or current practise, not law. So if an ISP blocks their customer from using their competitor's version of VoIP, for example, they are currenly not breaking any laws.

2. The notion of customers paying different rates for different levels of service is just the concept of differentiated services that has always been around, and not yet implemented. I am sure if it is implemented it will be on the lines of if Google wants faster service than others it will have to pay extra. It won't be that others will get *poorer* service than *now*. And I won't be surprised if this is codified into law. For example, when you sign up with your phone company - federal law mandates that everyone gets access to the network 99.99999% of the time (the so called 5 9's level of reliability). If a corporation pays more per call than you do, they may get more services, but it will not infringe on a certain minimum Quality of Service that you are guaraneteed by the government. Am sure a similar notion will also be codified in law by the Fed Govt in case ISPs charge different rates for different services.

3. Finally, it's not exactly corporate greed thats driving this move from ISPs, it just makes economic sense. In the current Internet you have a few web-sites/players who contribute to most of the traffic, the so called heavy hitters. What's wrong if an ISP approaches these guys and tells them, hey you are obviously making a lot of money off ur website and its obviously important to you that you continue to give fast/reliable service with more security against DoS attacks etc. We could give you that extra service if you pay us more. As long as they do it without harming others - it's perfectly valid!!

To summarize "unequal" service is perfectly valid as long as it meets certain minimum guarantees, and my understanding of this congress law is that it will do just thatd..

Sharad

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharad,
Thanks very much for your comments. I don't think I am an expert on this, but I tend to agree with you that differentiated service doesn't necesarily mean "corporates will control the resources".

I think it makes basic sense to charge companies extra that require better QoS or hog the bandwidth more than others. It is not very different from differentiating first class passengers from economy class passengers in a flight or a train.
Indian railways, runs by the government, make this differentiation as well, and it makes good revenue out of this model!

Having said that, the government needs to ensure that an acceptable QoS is available for basic customers and as long as that is taken care of, I don't see any need of panic or alarm.

I guess this also touches upon the the larger debate on equality by government control versus free market economics. I suspect views of people on this issue are colored by their larger perspectives on this debate! I guess, as always, the best solution is somewhere in the middle: let companies use differentiated service, but ensure that all customers get some level of basic service.

-Ramesh

Purushottam said...

Shard---yes, certianly the idea of differentiated services has existed and also may make economic sense. Also, I don' think that if the law gets passed, the backdone providers will open the bandwidth to the highest bidder---that will lead to a large public outcry and most likely they use the gold, silver, bronze-levels type of model. Having said that, the backbone network in the US is controlled by very few companies and not by the government and a scenario where they influence division of bandwidth according to their needs may not be too far-sighted. Two obvious choices are: to keep it neutral or open it up and implement regulation. The second choice has been abused in several cases before and I think that is why apprehensions are being raised when a similar decision is being made with regards to the network.

tejal said...

ramesh, on the larger debate, i dont think there is ever a middle path, the balance is always skewed toward those with money/power/control over resources. About this debate, i dont understand how this works and how it will get implemented, but Bob McChesney (of Media Matters) spoke about the issue on Democracy now a couple of days ago (May 10th 2006 I think). you can listen to the segment at www.democracynow.com

Purushottam said...

minor correction, the site is:
http://www.democracynow.org

Sharad said...

Puruman,

Well here is it looking from an economic point of view. There are only a few so called Tier-1 ISPs in the US (and for that matter the world) because it takes a huge amount of capital investment to set up backbone networks. That's it. Secondly, all ISPs in the US are under pretty severe economic pressure (for that matter all network operators) - hence further consolidation (look at AT&T SBC, then MCI got snapped up (I think, not sure) etc etc). This is partly because they are being used only as a dump pipe for carrying bits, while every one else, the websites, the search engines are making tonnes of money carrying traffic over them. It only makes sense they will try and make more money out of tapping the rich application providers in the Net. There is loads of unused capacity in the Internet Puru - and using it in innovative ways to give better services for those who pay for it is just fine in my opinion.

Finally, your comment on the Internet came out of DARPA hence it should remain in the public domain. I don't really buy this oft repeated argument. The Internet that was conceived in DARPA was a small few hundred node network used for academic purposes. The several-hundred-million node network that exists today (while it has crucial technology like TCP/IP, WWW from public domain) also has crucial components that came out from the Industry (current day high speed routers, the Ethernet, lot's of new wireless standards etc.) Moreover, no one knows the right technical and economic model to scale it to the next level - in which you will carry everything from video-streams to tonnes of data from say a pervasive network. And since the government has backed out and left the proliferation of the net to private operators they *have* to bring an economic angle into it - and that will almost certainly bring some kind of differentiation in what you get based on what you pay.

Sharad.

Anonymous said...

Puru,
Here are my thoughts on the issue of network neutrality. I am more worried about how differentiated services in the backbone will get implemented.

Differentiated services have been around for a long time already and as such "network neutrality" has already been violated. For instance, customers pay their ISPs in proportion to the bandwidth they receive. However, these are differentiated services implemented at the edges of the internet.

The more interesting case is that of differentiated services in the internet backbone. As of today, I can't see why a backbone provider would want to do it, because there is a lot of spare bandwidth in the core. The content providers have no incentive to pay for any improved service (than what they already have). The only way for AT&T to make money here is to have these content providers pay more, by forcibly dropping packets or degrading their service. This, I believe, is not an encouraging trend, since smaller businesses may not have the money or resources to pay for improved services.
Furthermore, the end-users may have to start paying more for many of the services that they are getting today.

Of course, one can argue that with Video-On-Demand, we might see changing traffic patterns in the core. I do not believe thats going to happen in the near future, at least as long as the access links continue to be the bottleneck (which will be the case for some time to come).

As for DoS attacks and such (that Sharad brought up), I do not think these are services that an ISP is providing to content providers. These are things that an ISP ought to do for its own sake. They simply do not want their links to be clogged up with unwanted traffic, else they will lose their customers (the lower tier ISPs). Needless to say that there are a lot of proposals to counter these attacks at the edges.

I would like to conclude by saying that differentiated services in the backbone may not turn out to be a great revenue-generating idea, unless forcible degradation of service is implemented for those unwilling to pay. This definitely has some unwanted side-effects as I pointed out. Differentiated services seems to be a good idea only at the edges of the network. Companies like AT&T already make money carrying traffic for other ISPs. They can make a lot of money by introducing innovative services at the edges of the network (which I believe is a very profitable market and will continue to be.).

Suddu

Purushottam said...

Here is a link to a discussion on Media Matters (a radio program out of UIUC) on this topic,
Real Audio
MP3

Anonymous said...

A relaetd post: the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 will now move to the full House for consideration.

http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/
items/3216/continued/233#continued

If the above link does not work please directly copy and paste it.
-Swati