Net Neutrality Definition

June 11, 2012
Net Neutrality is like a lot of things. But I guess Net Neutrality is like a good controversial subject – everyone has an opinion of it, but a different one. Wikipedia provides this initial statement on Net Neutrality:
Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle that advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers' access to networks that participate in the internet. Specifically, network neutrality would prevent restrictions on content, sites, platforms, types of equipment that may be attached, and modes of communication.
It then breaks it down into generalized principals like non-discrimination and first-come-first-served. But that isn't enough. The problem with net neutrality then is defining what a "vinyl" internet connection really is.

My own definition for net neutrality?

Here are a few aspects that need to be taken into consideration, once you get down to technicalities:


Does limiting a connection to 1Mb/s or 5Mb/s or 10Mb/s means we've broken net neutrality? Taken to the wireless domain, if I have 1,000 people on a wireless cell with a 100Mb/s capacity, all trying to access the internet – do I just serve them 100Kbps each? Assuming this is what I do, then none of them will be able to access video content in any reasonable way, while the rest, who are just browsing the internet would be happy with much less than that allotment.


Should we or shouldn't we cap our users in terms of the bandwidth they consume on a daily/weekly/monthly/other basis? My wife uses the internet about twice a week: Going into the web, checking her email, facebooking a little. Not that big on bandwidth. Some are hogging up the network with Netflix movies. Should they pay the same on their monthly fee? I am currently on a 600-minutes deal with my landline service provider. I selected this one because it fits my needs. Shouldn't I be able to do the same with my data connection?


I can live with my emails rather well if they get to my desktop a minute or so later than they do today. I can live with web pages that load in 1-2 seconds. I am here – I'll wait. I can live with bit torrent getting the file a wee bit slower. I can even live with buffering video clips from YouTube. Not so much with Netflix I assume (don't have it here in Israel, but I hate it when my VOD tells me to wait a minute because it is buffering). I cannot live with my Skype call or my video conferencing gets a delay in the media being sent or received. Not even for a second. It just kills the service before it starts. So what do we do about it? Do we treat everything as if it is top priority and have my emails and web pages race against my Skype call? Shouldn't I get each one of these different services in a time constraint that fits them best?


Web pages, emails, bit torrent – these are services that can handle jitter rather well (jitter means that you might get the web page you asked for in pieces that aren't ordered properly, and your browser will order them before showing the page to you). No need to give them any special treatment. Voice and video calls again are less tolerant. They have their own jitter mechanisms, but the less jitter in the network the better the quality of the call.


This one is a hard nut to crack. Bufferbloat is a phenomena of the internet where the overall throughput of the network is reduced because the sizes of the buffer queues along the packets path gets larger. It simply breaks the basic network protocols. Bob Cringely believes that carriers are not going to fix this problem any time soon:
Bufferbloat also affects BitTorrent, which ISPs hate […] [..] bufferbloat can be fatal to third-party voice-over-IP (VoIP) services like Skype and Vonage. Again, your cable ISP's own VoIP phone service runs quite happily in separately-provisioned bandwidth, never seeing the bufferbloat. So bufferbloat is terrible and getting worse, but don't expect your cable ISP to actually do much about it, because bufferbloat is actually good for their business.
Does a "vinyl" internet connection supposed to fix the bufferbloat problem? Do ISPs have the incentive to fix it? Does net neutrality means that bufferbloat should be eliminated? What about the next technical issue we will reach once we start consuming bandwidth at a rate of 1Gbps? - I am not even sure there is such a thing as net neutrality in these aspects. Or that having it in its pure version is good for the users – I wouldn't want my bit-torrent hogging neighbor to ruin my urgent video call. Would you?

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