The original concept of the internet was for a free and egalitarian means of moving and accessing data around the globe. Indeed, originally, the whole idea of commercial activity on the internet was frowned upon.
Now, however, the World Wide Web has moved a bit on how we use the internet. Although we are all dependent on it to one extent or another, there are more than nuances in the differences in the value of the different types of data traversing the underlying internet.
The ivory-towerist view is still that every entity that provides any part of the internet must be neutral in its approach to the data traversing its fiber, wire, and radio waves. The more capitalistic view is that certain types of data should be controlled in one way or another to allow more important and/or profitable data to be dealt with more efficiently.
Both sides of the story have their merits — and both sides tend to get too entrenched and so stand in the way of any real progress.
At one stage, the downloading of torrent-based video and music was accounting for close to 50% of all internet traffic. This peer-to-peer based approach to data, while offering a very effective high-availability model, does tend to have a large hit on available bandwidth when compared to the use of, for example, the use of a more localized content delivery network.
Spam volumes vary, according to Symantec’s tracking, from lows of around 1 trillion messages per month to highs of over 6 trillion. Even at a few kilobytes per message, that is a lot of bandwidth and storage resources that are taking up space and using up electricity that could be saved.
As the internet of things (IoT) takes shape, and verticals such as healthcare start to move far more towards to a home-based, centrally-monitored model, with sensor and monitor data being sent back to the center and required commands being sent back out, do we really want this type of data to be drowned out by others in the locality downloading their pirated copy of “The Hunger Games” or getting yet more emails on fake Rolexes or on how to make certain parts of the body larger while others get smaller?
Sure, we can bypass all the arguments around net neutrality by going for dedicated lines. As long as you are paying for the end-to-end connection, then neutrality doesn’t count. However, if we are going to start saying to those with illnesses that they need to pay out for a dedicated line while little Joey next door gets all his TV and films for free down his $10 a month connection, then this isn’t really fair, is it? The concept of a dedicated line has changed over the years as well — the majority of dedicated lines are dedicated only on part of the journey — part of it is still over public lines (although tunneling may be used to provide a degree of exclusivity).
And how about all those DDoS attacks: the hacking, the viruses, the phishing messages and so on? Should they be covered by net neutrality as well? After all, they are just data, and all data is equal. Surely, a cleansing of the “bad” data as close to the wire as possible is good for everyone except the bad guys?
One problem here, though. Just who makes the rules? Who says that this is good data and this is bad? The argument is that allowing any movement away from complete net neutrality is just the thin edge of a very large wedge. Repressive governments could then use the same rules to prevent — for example — political comment or suchlike. This is already easily seen in various parts of the world where any notion of net neutrality is laughable.
However, as more and more end points do get connected to the internet and the performance and overall security of data transport becomes more of an issue, maybe it is time for each side to sit down and come up with an agreement as to what data is completely outside the scope of net neutrality. The blocking of overt spam and the prevention of malware from spreading by the service provider as close to the point of creation — rather than at the end point as a choice by the end user — should be easy to agree on and would allow for service providers to apply tools on the wire to this end.
Further, if the internet community can agree on certain data types — such as data that can be identified as being torrent-based music or video — being “shaped” so that the priority with which they are dealt with is lowered compared to agreed higher priority data, then we start to create a self-managing, community value data policy, rather than a purely commercially driven one.
Sure, the big commerce lobbyists will still be there trying to break everything down and make it that their data always gets the highest priority. However, by digging in and saying that all data is the same, the net neutrality idealists run the risk of the rest of the world losing patience and allowing the commercial interests to take over. If this were to happen, then it becomes a free for all — large commercial concerns could shape or block different traffic to make their own (or partner) services look better. At this stage, the very basis of the internet is lost.
At least with a common approach driven by the community, a best-outcome should be attainable.