Apr 13, 2011

Net Neutrality – It’s All About Control


The thorny issue of net neutrality continues to wind its way through our government with the latest being a vote in the House of Representatives that overturned the FCC’s ability to regulate the Internet. It seems inevitable the issue will not soon be resolved as President Obama vows to veto the Resolution of Disapproval. Opinions appear to be largely divided along party lines.

I suppose I should first stop and wonder at how far the Internet has come in the preceding decades. It doesn’t seem that long ago I was working at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science and it was hard to find many people outside of the building who had even heard of the Internet. The commercial success of the Internet has been so great that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that legislation is increasingly swirling around. I think we largely dodged a bullet with the Internet Tax Freedom Act, but Net Neutrality is a more complex issue.

The heart of the matter is all about control. Do the providers have the right to charge for differentiated services from the portion of the network infrastructure they operate. There can be no debate that the guiding principles of the Internet protocols were focused on interoperability and robustness. With best effort packet delivery at the core, packet treatments or policies were only allowed for in theory with the ToS bits in the IP header. Without taking sides on the topic, I do believe organizations should have control and vote with their dollars. If service providers are allowed to shape traffic and charge differently, customers should have the right to arbitrage among providers. This is of course no small technical challenge, but we have helped many of our customers accomplish just this with our Flow Control Platform (FCP).

The Internet is a wonderful enabler of business – both real and those yet to be imagined. It will likely encounter many more legal and governmental road-bumps. As consumers of the net, having visibility into how our traffic is affected and controlled to make our own choices is a fundamental right.

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