Monday, July 24, 2017

Good overview of Net Neutrality

"Net Neutrality" is an orwellian term coined by Netflix and Youtube (the top two users of Internet bandwidth) for a proposed government regulation that prevents Internet Service Providers from providing different classes of service for both high-bandwidth and low-bandwidth services.

Basically, Net Neutrality subsidizes video companies at the expense of everyone else:
Comcast's throttling of BitTorrent is likewise clearly in the customer interest. Until the FCC stopped them, BitTorrent users were allowed unlimited downloads. Afterwards, Comcast imposed a 300-gigabyte/month bandwidth cap.

Internet access is a series of tradeoffs. BitTorrent causes congestion during prime time (6pm to 10pm). Comcast has to solve it somehow -- not solving it wasn't an option. Their options were:
  • Charge all customers more, so that the 99% not using BitTorrent subsidizes the 1% who do.
  • Impose a bandwidth cap, preventing heavy BitTorrent usage.
  • Throttle BitTorrent packets during prime-time hours when the network is congested.
Option 3 is clearly the best. BitTorrent downloads take hours, days, and sometimes weeks. BitTorrent users don't mind throttling during prime-time congested hours. That's preferable to the other option, bandwidth caps.
Throttling high-bandwidth services preserves all the other low-bandwidth ones (like email, Facebook, etc).  Here's an example:
Take GoGoInflight's internet service for airplanes. They block access to video sites like NetFlix. That's because they often have as little as 1-mbps for the entire plane, which is enough to support many people checking email and browsing Facebook, but a single person trying to watch video will overload the internet connection for everyone. Therefore, their Internet service won't work unless they filter video sites.

GoGoInflight breaks a lot of other NetNeutrality rules, such as providing free access to or promotion deals where users of a particular phone get free Internet access that everyone else pays for. And all this is allowed by FCC, allowing GoGoInflight to break NetNeutrality rules because it's clearly in the customer interest.
If you've never thought much about Net Neutrality, this is a great introduction.


Brad Richards said...

The current net-neutrality rules allow network management. If BitTorrent is stuffing up the network, an ISP can happily throttle it. The catch: they must throttle all BitTorrent sites equally. Same for video.

AFAIK, net neutrality just means that an ISP is not allowed to play favorites. So, for example, Comcast cannot allow their own video service through, while throttling or blocking everyone else's video service.

In the end, an ISP (ideally) collects money only from one source: the end consumer. You pay for your bandwidth, in whatever package you choose to buy from your ISP. Without net neutrality, ISPs, can start a bidding war on the other end: which services will pay us to deliver their content? The consumer, who already has little choice of ISP in many markets, will no longer be relevant to their decision making.

GoGoInflight sounds like an example of what should *not* happen. Blocking video sites is no problem, as long as they block all of them. But why should they allow access Amazon, but not other shopping sites? How is that in the consumer interest?

Ken said...

Good explanation. Karl Denninger has been ranting about Netflix and Net Neutrality for years, but as entertaining as a Denninger rant can be, this is a lot clearer and easier to understand.