Net Neutrality is a controversial topic and something I’ve been following since the early 2000’s when Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP started to gain popularity. I remember being disappointed when the first rules were enacted back around 2005. I’d just finished a VoIP project with a customer and had to explain to them that when using the public Internet, there is no way to guarantee the voice packets will arrive with acceptable latency or even arrive at all. The public Internet is best effort and that just isn’t good enough for a latency and drop sensitive application like voice.
Fast forward to 2018 and the Obama era net neutrality rules have been repealed, and a recent poll showed upwards of 80% of public opinion in favor of net neutrality and against its repeal. So, when I first thought about forming a company to solve problems that couldn’t legally be solved under previous regulations, I was worried. I was worried that people might hate what I’m doing, that I’d be attacked and or criticized. Basically I was worried that I might be a giant DBag creating a company to profit off of something unethical.
Then, I started talking to people. Ordinary Internet users that really aren’t technical and really don’t have an understanding of how the Internet works. They all experienced poor Internet , choppy audio, choppy video, laggy online video games, among other issues. They all wanted a better Internet and all agreed that they would pay a small fee for a better experience and that it would sometimes be worth it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Net Neutrality didn’t just happen because the government wanted to protect consumers against some imagined discrimination or wrong doing. There were some bad actors in the history of US ISP’s, blocking of torrent sites, blocking of VoIP calls, and other unethical actions did occur by ISP’s that had conflicting interests. One line of business of the ISP was hurt or threatened by emerging Internet services that just so happened to compete with another line of business. This created a scenario where a conflict of interest existed and some unethical decisions were made and led to the first round of net neutrality regulations.
Net Neutrality is roughly defined as regulations requiring Internet Service Providers to treat all traffic equally over their networks. This sounds good at first, and is probably why polls show how popular it is. But the truth is that not all applications can perform optimally under equal treatment. Some applications like voice, video and online gaming are more sensitive to packet loss and latency than other applications like file transfers that handle packet loss and latency just fine.
So, there should be some middle ground. Obviously we don’t want ISP’s to block websites based on free speech, political content or participate in anti-competitive activities where they slow down a new service that is seen as a threat to an existing line of business. We really don’t want ISP’s to block anything. The Internet should be free and open for all to consume and innovate on. However, because certain applications require preferential treatment, we should also have a method to prioritize those applications. But it would be a horrible idea for government regulators to pick and choose which applications get priority, it would be best for the free market to decide and let consumers choose to pay for priority if they feel it is worth it.
There’s been a recent backlash against the FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” order which essentially repealed Obama-era net neutrality with many senators and congressmen drafting legislation to put net neutrality into the law books. A permanent bi-partisan net neutrality law would bring stability to the industry, and hopefully result in an improved Internet experience for everyone.
If you feel motivated enough, here is a draft letter you can write to your elected officials:
As you work on permanent net neutrality regulation, please take under consideration these issues:
1. Internet Service Providers shouldn’t be able to block or throttle any of my traffic.
2. Internet Service Providers shouldn’t be able to block any device I choose to connect to the Internet.
3. Internet Service Providers shouldn’t be able to block any application or service I choose to use over the Internet.
4. Businesses and consumers should be able to pay for premium, or “fast lane” service if they choose.