It’s hard work being an Internet service provider these days. What with all those iTunes downloads, user-generated video sites like YouTube, IPTV and video-on-demand services like the BBC iPlayer eating up bandwidth. That’s just the legal stuff. Those nasty P2P file sharing services are still very popular1. What on earth are they to do?
Introducing bandwidth caps for their users would prove unpopular with customers. Spending money to upgrade their hardware is unpopular with them. Throttling the amount of bandwidth available to certain services (BitTorrent traffic for example) seems to be the accepted course of action at the moment.
I mentioned recently that Barack Obama is pro Net Neutrality and I’m aware that not everybody knows what this is exactly.
The basic tenet of Net Neutrality is that no packet of data on the Internet should have priority over any other packet of data. An email gets no preferential treatment compared to a webpage and instant messaging protocols don’t defer to a movie download for instance. To date, five bills have failed to be passed by the United States Congress. The debate is also raging in Canada and here in the UK not much appears to be happening with respect to this traffic shaping.
I see it being somewhat analogous to a museum saying “Sure you could go and look at the stuff you want to see but we’ll make you wade through a pool full of treacle wearing flippers to do so. Or you could step on our airport-style super-fast moving walkway to go see the stuff we want you to see because the artist gave us a metric ass-load of money”.
Earlier this year Neil Berkett (he CEO of Virgin Media) described Net Neutrality as “a load of bollocks“. An outraged Cory Doctorow promptly ripped up his contract in protest. If this does become standard practice for Virgin then I’ll be following him out of the door.
1 Yes, I know there is perfectly legal content available for download via P2P networks as well but it is dwarfed by the amount of pirated music and movies transferred.