Monday, May 5, 2014

The New Battle For The Future Of The Internet

Beyond net neutrality

When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, he didn’t need to ask Comcast, Verizon, or other internet service providers to add Facebook to their networks. He also didn’t have to pay these companies extra fees to ensure that Facebook would work as well as the websites of established companies. As soon as he created the Facebook website, it was automatically available from any internet-connected computer in the world.
This aspect of the internet is network neutrality. And a lot of network neutrality supporters fear it's in danger.
President Obama pledged to support net neutrality on the campaign trail in 2007. But many Obama supporters have felt let down by Obama's choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler.

Last week Wheeler announced a new set of network neutrality regulations. The details haven't been released yet, but press accounts indicate that Wheeler's proposal will allow internet service providers to offer a "fast lane" for online services, a concept that's anathema to network neutrality stalwarts.
This is about ensuring that the internet remains a fertile ground for new innovations
Yet Wheeler's decision to water down network neutrality regulations isn't even the biggest threat to the open internet right now. The internet itself is changing in ways that threatens to make the conventional net neutrality debate almost irrelevant. In recent weeks, Netflix has agreed to pay first Comcast and then Verizon for private connections directly to their respective networks. Netflix signed these deals under protest, charging that it had been coerced to pay "tolls" just to deliver content to their own customers.

That might sound like a net neutrality violation, but the practice doesn't actually run afoul of the network neutrality rules advocates have been pushing for the last decade. Those rules ban "fast lanes" for content that arrives over the internet backbone, the shared information super highway that carries the bulk of the internet traffic today. But what Netflix paid Comcast and Verizon for amounts to a new, private highway just for Netflix traffic. Conventional network neutrality rules don't regulate this kind of deal.

These private connections are going to be increasingly important to the American internet in the coming years. That might force net neutrality proponents to go back to the drawing board. Otherwise they might win the battle for net neutrality and still lose the war for a level playing field on the internet.

The problem with fast lanes 

It's a typical weekday evening and you and your neighbors are all using the internet in various ways. You're watching Netflix videos, playing World of Warcraft, checking email, downloading podcasts, and reading cardstacks on The information required to display all this content is sent from servers all over the world. But it quickly finds its way to your internet service provider, the company that provides you and your neighbors with home internet access.

Internet usage is particularly heavy this evening, and your ISP doesn't have the capacity to handle all the data you and your neighbors are downloading. So your neighbor's World of Warcraft game starts to stutter. Another's House of Cards episode freezes up and starts buffering. Your Skype video chat to your sister becomes pixelated and jerky. A digital traffic jam is ruining everyone's internet experience.
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