Monday, November 22, 2010

Net neutrality

Net neutrality has popped up again the the UK news. For those unfamiliar with the concept the non-codified principal is that providers of internet connections do not favour or hinder anyone. That means you can access my little blog at the same speed as you can access The Financial Times. Sure they might have the equivalent of a motorway leading to their front door and I might have a country lane, but you can all travel at the same speed.

This may change.

What's up for examination is allowing content providers to pay providers to ensure a faster service to them. Our political leaders place this under the guise of "market forces". They're wrong and once again it shows just how they still think of the internet as "tubes" or indeed the same analogy I use as in a road network.

Consider the M6. This has a sister the M6T the T stands for Toll. If you have the money you can take this less busy shortcut and this equates neatly to the offerings of the Internet Providers; you pay for the speed of connection. But that's as far is it goes.

Sticking with this analogy the rumbling revocation of neutrality will allow the destinations to pay for the connections. The simple way to consider this is if Cambridge wanted better speeds it would issue 'passes' to those travelling to them to use the equivalent of bus or car-pooling lanes allowing them to speed past those who are simply using the same connection to get elsewhere.

Now the theory goes that this extra payment will allow an upgrading of the connections; there's still a priority lane, but now there are more lanes for everyone else too. So everyone benefits. But who owns the connections? Who is upgrading them?

So take a large company paying for priority; 100 people heading down the same pipe with 50 going elsewhere. So under neutrality each gets 1% of the bandwidth; under the new system the priority customers might get 1.5% leaving the remaining 50 with 0.5%. Market Forces says this is fine, the company that can afford to pay is obviously popular hence the 'spare' cash.

Except what if you get 50 of company A and 50 of Company B and both are priority? Everyone gets 1%; no difference. But what if the majority of traffic is 'priority' say 98 with only 2 non-priority? If there's no minimum bandwidth those two might be allocated only 0.1% each with the rest only receiving a little over 1% each Heck they might get 0.01%.

As a result we end up with the same situation we see in business, those who've thrived under net neutrality can now pay to have their own visitors prioritised over those of their competitor. We get a few large companies fighting over the bandwidth and throwing money at the providers while the smaller areas get starved of traffic.

Oh but wait with all that money they'll add more bandwidth - no of course they won't. Keep it a scarce resource and you can charge what you like; yes it will increase when they hit the ceiling of what the destination sites will pay; but it's not going to be the competition that the government seems to believe it's going to be.