Net nootrality

Amanda’s last Rocketboom show (ever, it seems) covered the topic of net neutrality, which got me thinking – where did I stand?

My nominal hippy liberal internet loving values were shouting – yeah, net neutrality, sounds great, let’s do it. But the part of me that maintained rationality wanted to look into it, and the relatively simplistic picture that Amanda paints in her video really didn’t sit right with me – it felt, erm, Michael Mooreish. And before everyone starts painting me as a right wing fascist – I agree with a lot of Michael’s more liberal views, but dislike his slightly patronising tone. Which, I guess, might be specifically targeting the American public, which might make sense, but hey… getting off-topic here.

Back on to the issue: the two tier internet. In many respects, Amanda’s hit it right on the head – a two tier internet will mean that there are some services that you have to pay extra for as an internet user. Despite her suggestion that it might be, most of what is currently Google will never be on a premium tier – the reasoning behind a multi-tier internet is to allow high bandwidth or serivices that require quality of service (see: [[QoS]]) to work properly, instead of delivering slightly mediocre services that crackle over the heterogenous infrastructure that that makes up the web. So… services like VoIP, VOD, IPTV etc might require a premium payment to work (not Skype, etc, but new, quality guaranteed services from, yes, the evil telcos Amanda references) – and this payment would cover the cost of building that infrastructure, and again, yes, probably make the telcos money (it’s called ‘capitalism’. A new idea, actually).

In short, I came around to thinking that a two tier internet might not be the evil thing its made out to be.

And to my surprise, Chris Anderson of Wired agrees with me. And on chatting to him tonight, it seems he shared some of the above views, and had a couple of other thoughts:

    That telcos could never sort themselves out to build and end-to-end two tier network
    That regulating something before it became an issue would actually stifle the development of the internet – imagine having to get regulatory approval before launching a new video service.

Now, I didn’t really agree with the former as a blanket statement, but on further chat it seemed that Chris agreed that building cross-network end-to-end networks would be tricky (i.e. from one telco to another) — which makes complete sense to me, the WHOLE internet will never be two tier. But what you might get is ISPs who might push IPTV, VOD, etc services from their distribution centres direct to consumers for a premium fee.

Shock, horror! ;)

It is an interesting issue, and it was an interesting chat. I’m sure I haven’t begun to work through the complexity here – but thought I’d put the thoughts down and see what people came up with. Please, no flaming, even if you are geek enough to care!

Update – talking, and thinking about this more – a significant part of the argument for net neutrality hinges on how it will impact the average consumer’s experience of the internet. If you are forced to pay more to a service provider in order to gain access to regular web content — that would suck; as Amanda points out, many ISPs are in monopolistic control over their territories in the US (less so in the UK thanks to local loop unbundling). But if it happens as I imagine it will happen – with ISPs offering access to separate content and services for an extra fee – well, then, that’s a different story, IMHO.

I could be missing something, though. We’ll see.