Net Neutrality – The future ahead

One of the reasons we – the consumers or the end-users of the internet – are relatively unaware of the meaning of Net Neutrality (NN) is that, we have always had it good and took NN for granted. We were not aware of internet being any other way.

But now the moment has come when you have to necessarily know the meaning of NN. Because you have the rights to know what information you have access to and what information you are deprived off as an information consumer. Because we risk somebody else altering what we experience on the internet. The current attempts to fiddle with NN – if successful – will be another demonstration of American capitalism.

So let’s get on – what is Net Neutrality (NN)?

NN simply means the contents on the WWW are delivered to the end-user by a straight-forward, unfiltered, unprioritized, unbiased transaction from the content provider to the user. There is nobody altering the contents delivered to you. For example, if we both are from the same geographical area, and google a search term, we will (and should) get the same results. And that is a simplistic definition of NN.

Who can take NN away from the end-user?

There are two key players – the content provider and the internet provider. Take search for example. In my case, Google would be the content provider and Comcast will be the internet provider. Lack of NN, these two parties can decide what I will see on my computer, based on my profiling. My profiling could be based on a number of factors, but in this context mainly based on how much I pay.

What would it mean to not have NN?

Think of China. Think of many of the pan-Islamic countries. They don’t have NN. But their neutrality is defined based on government policies. And at least, all residents of the country have access to same content. But in American context, it is purely commercial and is likely to give different internet experience to different people.

Will this affect countries other than USA?

I think it will. If they get away with NN, content providers (a vast majority of who are in the US) are likely to charge tiered access rates to international internet providers also. This means, whether you are in Bangalore or Baltimore or Budapest, this will likely affect you in some way.

Can we do something about it?

Though the internet is certainly larger than any number of corporations, the steering wheels are in the hands of few large corporates. Besides, NN is largely a gentlemen’s agreement and laws supporting NN are weak and manipulatable.

Are reasons why the NN killers might be right?

Content providers and internet providers cite many reasons – such as improving quality of content, prevent identity theft and internet related attacks etc…, but I think we are risking by putting control into the hands of few people.

Why is this news now?

As you may have read, Google and Verizon are working on clearing their way to a new business model, which would effectively betray NN. This is a developing news and you may see the stories are constantly evolving.

Open discussion

If you can think of good reasons to abolish NN or have ideas on how to prevent the efforts to kill NN, please comment.


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Comments

  1. Quote
    J Murali (subscribed) said August 7, 2010, 2:13 pm:

    RK, I like your approach on the topic. Coming to NN…

    1. My vote will be for it.
    2. So, to prevent the efforts to kill NN, my 2 cents are as follows:
    a. Somewhere I read that content provider do pay service provider but a flat fee! May be they need to renegotiate and agree on the revised rates so that service provider gets their appropriate share.
    b. Govts should provide very clear guidelines and bring in ICT laws in favor of NN.

    BTW, Google is supporting NN in India. See the attached link (http://ow.ly/2mkGr). Is this a double standard?

    I also thought about an analogy for a moment – Power. Power is being generated, transmitted and distributed. So 3 parties are involved. One company could do more than one service. When you compare this with internet, service providers take care of transmission and distribution. So, would it be fair on their part to expect more on the revenue pie?

  2. Quote
    Rk (subscribed) said August 7, 2010, 11:28 pm:

    Thanks Murali for your comments.

    A flat-fee structure is what we have today.

    Current FCC writes policies and let’s the corporates writes rules. This has to change and FCC/FTC has to write rules. That is the change we want.

    You are correct, Google is a supporter of NN. If the current developments are true, Google its pushing it’s stands too far.

  3. Quote

    RK,
    Good timing to write such a post. Tier-less internet is considered such a holy grail because of the way it evolved. Once we are all used to this any alteration to this is considered as a big crime. We have every other service tiered in life.

    If we look from the consumer side, if my apartment has 100 homes all with internet, and if there are 10 gamers and 90 normal users who use internet for things like news, email and recipe, the 10 gamers will use most of the available bandwidth. Now, if the ISP decides to throttle the gamers IP packets (based on the protocol or what not), then as a consumer I am benefited. At the same time, when an ISP deals with a large content/ service provider like Google, I will be worried. Strange isn’t it.

    I think the responsibility will be on all the ISPs, Content providers and FCC to explain all these before there is any decision. It is evil if back door deals are made by SIGs with deep pockets about something that will have lasting effect on the society.

  4. Quote
    Rk (subscribed) said August 8, 2010, 9:47 am:

    Thanks Vamsi for your comments.

    You have some great points, but i think it is important to make the distinction between tiered service and metered service. With most essential (and some non-essential) commodities, we pay based on usage and that could very well apply to bandwidth.

    But NN concerns with content and it’s impartial treatment. For example, (in a world with no NN,) your ISP could influence your search engine of choice. Or the results of a search. It could affect what news you get to read. Your ISP would incentivize you to watch a particular video site, bcoz they chose not to pay for YouTube (for ex).

    Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 deals with NN, but lobbyists representing private interests might be trying hard to bend the laws.

  5. Quote

    RK,
    Very timely post. I had the same question as Vamsi. We all already pay for differing levels of bandwidth. If some content providers get better quality of service why is that a big problem? Satellites and Cable systems already determine which channels we should watch and the channels decide which programs we watch. Same is true of newspapers. Maybe I am missing something?

  6. Quote

    The key to all of this is that consumers continue to have their access, and that is the key word, to bandwidth and services because of political shenanigans. For all intents and purposes, the single pipe service should have been in place years ago. That the major providers are still diddling around with both a TV and an Internet connection and packaging each as a metered service, even though they attempt to make it look like one service, is the crime here, and I do mean crime. This holds true for business as well, of course, since most use their Internet connection for email and other services. We are now something like #45 in the states for bandwidth, all the way down from #4. This has nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with back room deals, as we see now at FCC, and outright payoffs to politicians at the expense of businesses and consumers. This is a great theft to everyone.

  7. Quote
    Rk (subscribed) said August 8, 2010, 8:04 pm:

    Thanks Sukumar for your comments (and the tweet announce).

    The fundamental premise behind NN is keeping the ISP agnostic to content. For ex, if Sastwingees wants to charge it’s readers, it could do it in a number of ways.

    1) implement a paywall
    2) Bribe it’s way to the first page of search results of the search terms
    3) Pay the ISPs to deliver Sastwingees faster/cheaper than competition. ISP can even ensure I don’t get access to competition.

    #1 is a “neutral” transaction, bcoz customers have a choice to pay or not
    #2 is a neutral transaction as long as paid results are identified (as goog does today)
    #3 is not neutral, because that deprives customer of choice.

    Of course, a real-world implementation will be extremely sophisticated and complex.

    WWW and the Internet has been defined by openness, universal (and impartial) access. That shouldn’t have to change, and TV/ newspaper are just wrong precedents.

  8. Quote

    In india, I believe airte isl throttling the bandwidth when loading youtube videos. Is this violation of NN ? Here is the google vs verison story http://gizmodo.com/5605310/google-just-killed-net-neutrality

  9. Quote

    Timely topic. RK your answer to Sukumar’s question is very good. I just read in NYT that the main aim behind these talks to have google data centers near to verizon to increase the speed. Check this out http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/opinion/08cringeley.html?_r=1&hp

  10. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said August 8, 2010, 8:22 pm:

    Thanks RK. I am still not convinced. If an ISP unfairly discriminates on content, couldn’t we switch to another ISP? These days even cable/phone line isn’t a monopoly. Shouldn’t we simply let the market decide how to deal with NN rather than try to regulate it?

  11. Quote
    Rk (subscribed) said August 8, 2010, 8:30 pm:

    Thanks Robert for your comments. I do believe there’s a lot at stake and the big boys spend lot of time and money in Washington DC.

    Thanks Arun for your comments. I do not know if India has laws around NN. If it did, and if what you claim is true, Airtel would be in violation. And Yes, Goog has been repudiating it’s involvement with Verizon, ever since this news became viral.

    Thanks Ananth for your comments. And for the link to the NYT blurb.

  12. Quote

    /** Shouldn’t we simply let the market decide how to deal with NN rather than try to regulate it **/

    The banking sector collapsed, just because it is left to the market .. Every system needs a set of rules and regulations to function properly, and i believe, free & open markets should also have one..

    So in this case, the NN, in my opinion is judged based on the rules that we employ for it.

    We already have Anti-Trust laws active in both US and EU.. the purpose of this is to ensure a fair playground for the companies to operate.. We can guess, what if Microsoft and Google some day decide to tie up.. we can say, let market decide on this.. but It will also mean this alliance will become a sole monopoly over internet.. can we still say, no one should interfere in open market..

    in the case of Content Provider and Service Provider, the both should be independant as far as possible, to ensure fair play.. otherwise, we may end up in leaving the internet arena under the control of few organisations / people.. this is not desirable in my opinion..

    To make an analogy with today’s cable TV, the channels and relay medium should be independant as far as possible.. when there is a tie up b/w relay medium and channels, then it will end up with few people colonising the entire space..

  13. Quote

    Excellent post RK. I think we are too early to ask Net Neutrality from industry because still they haven’t recovered money yet which they invested for fiber optical cables/Cisco routers/switch etc. Just imagine, telephone lines now, no one cares about it because the invested money was recovered, achieved sky high profits, which is why now we can talk to India for a mere $0.3/min. I used telephone metaphor here, because we want the same kind of neutral (if you wish), that is we want to hear the same voice, same speed, same message, as the other side person speaks. But as of now we are not there yet,

    1. Industry still struggles to make profit out of young immature internet business.

    2. No one knows exactly how they want the net neutral. Is it wrong if i use the high end phone to hear others voice clearer than using a std. phone receiver? Sometimes we can’t achieve neutral on everything, i think net falls on no-neutral-attainable category for now.

    3. The information overload of net is too high, lot of people can’t tolerate with that, since we are very fragile and emotional and we try to react violently if someone raise some opinion that contradict with our opinion/belief. Every time we want to impose ban on some substance(like alcohol) “some of us know how to handle it but most of them don’t know how-to”

    4. Google has all rights to partnership with carriers to bring their content faster than others. Because as i said it is all business, if Google not trying this now, then may be MSFT do it with some other carrier. Either way the innovative thinking of this kinda of deals may help industry to achieve profits faster and then they might consider some neutrality that we are expecting now.

  14. Quote

    The meetings that were called off Friday in D.C. ought to have everyone’s attention. FCC’s Lightfooted Leader Two Steps To Public Pressure On Transparency Failure tektips http://tek-tips.nethawk.net/a/3ybop

    One perception we like is that they were called off because of pressure from the blogging community. The fact our FCC is having closed door meetings on how bandwidth will be used to create wealth is a very real, very global, issue. Don’t think for a second that the pressure of viral communications is not showing up in the decision making. This is not about the average person’s monthly costs, but about how the toll gates are constructed, and exactly how much those at the gate can extract from the public. The decision affects everything, and the secrecy ought to scare the hello out of you.

  15. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said August 8, 2010, 9:59 pm:

    Sukumar, it is not known to us what a NN-less internet will look like. But I can say this – internet has just reached a stage where a third of world’s population access it. But not all of them – not even a reasonable % – are capable of making intelligent choices when it comes to ISP or content source for that matter. Removing NN from the mix, most people will settle with whatever they get for an affordable price.

    Japan / Korea are some of the examples how a neutral “medium” leads to healthy competition and ultimately a win-win situation.

    At the end, the big players will end up meeting their revenue/market-share objectives, the smaller content providers will have an uphill task.

  16. Quote

    The most critical aspects of NN are how it either limits, or expands, our horizons for content and, more importantly, opportunities. We only have to look at basic cable TV here in the states to see the quality of its content, as it is limiting competition. It is anti-capitalism and anti-common sense to limit our future, though other nations are far more savvy. In many Asian nations they provide far faster access and universal access. Here in the states, we only provide lip service to those ideas. The countries who figure out that their greatest resource is the ability of their people to communicate, at every single level, will lead the way.

    I am very curious if Obama wants to become known as the guy who killed NN. It is very real.

  17. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said August 8, 2010, 10:24 pm:

    Thanks Senthil for your comments.

    Thanks Robert for your insight. Just the possibility that bloggers and internet-users might have had an effect on FCC is heartening. But I doubt it.

    Thanks Subba for your comments.

    While I agree that “everything’s free” business model is not sustainable, I would counter some of the assertions you made:

    1) Haven’t the cost of ” fiber optical cables/Cisco routers/switch etc” been recovered through shareholders’ money in plummeted stocks and dissolved companies? Also keep in mind, some of the big players today did not even exist when this infrastructure was built.

    2) Industry struggles to make money is true. But lack of NN will cause the big content providers to make more money, and smaller content providers at loss of ways to create market-share and revenue. Effectively, this will only favor the big capitalists.

    Your points certainly have merit, the content providers need to be encouraged by creating some ways of revenue creation. But if the very people who need to be regulated, end up creating the regulation, FCC would have done a shoddy job. I hope you can concur with that.

  18. Quote

    The challenge of cameras everywhere and everyone a journalist, places a huge burden on governments trying to avoid costly transition and control the masses. The fear and the chaos that might ensue, is real, for some, should any extreme occur. If, all of a sudden, you could simply get the same exact content through your Internet connection, for free, as you can get on the limited proprietary cable networks, you would see a collapse of those markets. Now they are still siphoning off their extra fee, in spite of the fact that is a gross manipulation of technology with government blessing.

    Yet this is a fait accompli except for the fact it is still occurring and still a way to avoid NN rules. Now allowing service providers the protection of being considered a ‘content provider’ allows them to meter whatever they want and throttle content at any point of entry.

    I would not be surprised to read where companies ask for financial relief to finally allow the public the bandwidth we’ve been paying for over the decades. They will want to get paid for as long as the people are forced to allow them to get paid. After 15 years in Telcom, I can tell you that there will be nothing fair about it.

  19. Quote
    Rajesh (subscribed) said August 8, 2010, 11:09 pm:

    “For example, if we both are from the same geographical area, and google a search term, we will (and should) get the same results. And that is a simplistic definition of NN.”

    You know what? Google is pushing personalized search results a lot these and the example is wrong.Google, by default, offers you results from sites that you visit, if they contain the content that you are looking for.Google calls this personalization and has been doing this for more than two years now.So, even if you are in the same geographical locations then you may not see the same results for identical searches! (I can tell you this because I am an SEO and a search engine expert)

    Though google considers personalization to be good and pushes it a lot, it does this by keeping track of your web history and this is clearly bad. How can they keep track of what you do on the internet? how can they invade your privacy? Why do they want to give you results based on your web history? Did we ask for it?This invasion of privacy is worser than NN and all the popular search engines are following google.So, Bing is no exception.

    Comin back to NN, I think the market forces will eventually kill those who try to make the internet NN-less. Google had been very successful at what it had done so far. It has countered the competition (including microsoft) very well, by its strong support for GPL and open source, apart from giving away several freebies. All these looked good in the eyes of the consumers and the internet users are responsible for what google is right now.Despite the support for open source and freebies, google was and is making big money. Isn’t it? If google tries to do anything that is anti-consumer, then it will see a downward cycle and it is imminent (going by what google tries to do these days).

    Take for example the google images. Google used to show thumbnails all these days, but now (from July) they show the actual images from the websites in their image search? This is content theft and it isn’t good for the websites who actually own those images and a number of webmasters are already blocking google imagebots. I strongly feel that the content consumers will definitely kill any attempt against NN.

  20. Quote
    Rajesh (subscribed) said August 9, 2010, 9:46 am:

    A lot of typos in my comment but hope it conveys the mesage…

  21. Quote

    I agree with Sukumar and others who comment that the market should correct any biases. Also in a free market a consumer will find a way to get to the content she is looking for.

  22. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said August 9, 2010, 7:44 pm:

    Thanks Robert for your comments.

    Thanks Rajesh for your comments. I was under the impression the personalized search was an search option, provided on user’s choice/consent. If that is not right, personalized search would be wrong too.

    Thanks Nani for your comments. I have gathered that “market will get what it wants” as a significant (and plausible) counter theme for this blog post. I hope to do some more reading and provide an update on that topic.

  23. Quote

    Informative and educative post.The de-centralized structure of communication is one of the reason that makes internet special and unparrallel in human history.The internet provides a level playing ground for anyone who comes up with innovative ideas.Would consumers have got youtube in its present form if a company with deep pocket had decided to promote its own shoddy ‘video sharing site’ by using the fast lane of a market leader ISP?
    There is only two way about who controls the internet.
    Either it can be collectively owned(atleast to a considerable degree) with fair & just rules being decided by FCC ,OR, the rules can be decided by
    the market leaders( read a cartel of companies).’The invisible hand of market’ is a specious argument in favour of creating and maintaining monopolies and oligopolies, and we should not add internet into it.’Market will be able to decide’ means a few big industrial firms will be able to decied or change the ‘self evolving’ rules based on their own gains, and commercialy exploit what is the result of a collective enterprise of people across the globe(As you have said even taking the infrastructure alone into consideration some big players were not there when it was built).
    Even Google does not care to ideologically defend that net neutrality is bad, but making unconvincing statements to tell how their actions could not affect net neutrality.

  24. Quote

    Informative and educative post.The de-centralized structure of communication is one of the reason that makes internet special and unparrallel in human history.The internet provides a level playing ground for anyone who comes up with innovative ideas.Would consumers have got youtube in its present form if a company with deep pocket had decided to promote its own shoddy ‘video sharing site’ by using the fast lane of a market leader ISP?
    There is only two way about who controls the internet.
    Either it can be collectively owned(atleast to a considerable degree) with fair & just rules being decided by FCC ,OR, the rules can be decided by
    the market leaders( read a cartel of companies).’The invisible hand of market’ is a specious argument in favour of creating and maintaining monopolies and oligopolies, and we should not add internet into it.’Market will be able to decide’ means a few big industrial firms will be able to make decision or change the ‘self evolving’ rules based on their own gains, and commercialy exploit what is the result of a collective enterprise of people across the globe(As you have said even taking the infrastructure alone into consideration some big players were not there when it was built).
    Even Google does not care to ideologically defend that net neutrality is bad, but making unconvincing statements to tell how their action could not affect net neutrality.

  25. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said August 13, 2010, 2:51 am:

    Thanks Arun for your comments.

    It is true that internet provides level playing field for anybody that innovates, regardless of their capital power.

    However, as Subba pointed out, some issues exist – like the unsustainable “everything for free” culture, that is putting a lot of pressure on content provider. Twitter for example is struggling to operate without revenues (this was the case few months ago, I dont know if this has changed now). That needs a solution too, but there should be better solution that killing NN.

    Possibilities are too many, have to see how it all evolves.

  26. Quote

    Nice post RK. Like Sukumar and Vamsi have mentioned, I still do not get why it is wrong for content providers to pay ISPs to deliver their content faster/cheaper or prevent ISPs from delivering a competitor’s content. If this were implemented, initially there might be chaos, but there could be a time when equilibrium will set in. By that, I mean that there will be a time when content provider’s may fight with one another to pay ISPs to deliver their content faster. But, eventually, content providers and ISPs will form a community to hopefully provide better service, but maybe at a higher cost. Of course, there could be collusion as well and some kind of regulation might be needed.

    However, moving away from NN may also push content providers to sign SLAs with ISPs and conversely ISPs will push content providers to improve on the quality of content to entice customers. So, this might not be all bad. I think that competition is always good and leads to creativity and eventually always leads to better things for consumers. Coming from that angle, I think non-NN world might be a good thing.

    Of course, I am just playing devil’s advocate here. As others have mentioned, this would be similar to what we get with TV channels right – depending on the service provider and the kind of service that we signed up for, content is different and quality (for example HD) is also different. Why should this be different for the internet? Is it because that is what we are used to?

    Having said all of the above, I do need to learn a lot more about NN and its intricacies. Thanks for provoking our thoughts on this subject.

  27. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said August 13, 2010, 10:30 am:

    Thanks Ganesh for your comments.

    A few months (or years) from now, I think we will most likely land in a place that is somewhere between NN and NN-less.

    Having said that, I will take the pro-NN position for the sake of stimulating this discussion.

    Here are some basic thoughts I have. Internet continues to provide a level-playing field for all content providers big and small. But in NN-less world, if you blog and have $1 with you, I will be able to write a biased, poorer or other inferior blog and get ahead of you, as long as I pay $2.

    Yes, this is what is happening with TV and newspapers today. But internet has been the epitome of openness, transparency and why should that change?

    You are right, we all need to read up on NN, but the book has not been written yet 🙂 Right now, it is anybody’s word on what NN should mean. And that “anybody” today is Google.

    The only admissible argument is internet companies need a source of income and NN-less may be one possible solution.

  28. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said August 14, 2010, 3:38 am:

    Let me give a flavor of the types of things the service providers are hoping to be able to accomplish. Hopefully this will clear the air and let you see what they’re up to:

    Lack of NN will allow them discriminate services. For example, they may disallow or significantly deteriorate – say for example – VoIP relative to simple browsing. Companies like Vonage and streaming companies like NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube have a lot to worry about. In addition to the customer that is.

    Lack of NN will allow them discriminate vendors. For example, they may disallow or significantly deteriorate the “load times” of the websites they don’t like. If I am Comcast, and if you are CNN, you can bribe me (in the name of tiered services) and make sure I don’t give my users access to other news websites. Bing can bribe its way to rendering other search engines so slow, you will
    eventually go back to Bing.

    Lack of NN will allow ISPs implement Time of Day (ToD), Day of Week (DoW) based prioritization services, that let THEM choose what experience you will have.

    From a engineering standpoint, there are hundreds of technical ways in which to do these, without getting caught about the policy makers and watchdogs.

  29. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said August 22, 2010, 10:04 pm:

    I have summarized the key points from all your comments on a separate post on my blog. Please visit http://bit.ly/d3G6dI for the summary.

  30. Quote
    Prasanna Kumar P said November 11, 2010, 5:47 pm:

    Views on net neutrality by Mr Sukumar is worth exploring as we marketers spend lot of money on the net to reach out to the right audience. Its time that some “Body” would take up a watch dog role to regulate, make an compliance view of those results thrown from a search option, which is consistent to the search from user to user.

    Like ABC the net needs to have “standard or a compliance Authority or tribunal which needs to put forth standard practises which the search company needs to follow . Hope this happens in years to come

    Prasanna Kumar P

  31. Quote
    RK (subscribed) said September 16, 2013, 11:11 pm:

    Sukumar, I have written a post that answers your question on why free-markets is not the solution. A very late response I admit, but I think you should check it out.

    http://kuppurao.com/2013/09/16/where-internet-is-politics/

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