In many ways, the emotionally charged debate on Network Neutrality (NN) has been a lot like hunting Unicorns. While hunting the mythical horse could be filled with adrenalin, emotion, and likely be quite entertaining, the prize would ultimately prove to be elusive. As a myth, entertaining; but when myths become reality, then all bets are off. The Network Neutrality public and private debate has been filled with more emotion than rational discussion, and in its wake a number of myths have become accepted as reality. Unfortunately, public policy, consumer broadband services, and service provider business survival hang in the balance.
Myth 1: The Internet can be “neutral” towards all types of applications
A neutral network implies that every packet and every application is treated the same, even under conditions of congestion. Let the network be agnostic and randomly drop packets. Let the network treat business class customer traffic exactly the same as residential traffic. Let non real-time traffic impact the service of real-time applications like voice.
The fact is that not all applications are the same; different applications have different tolerances for neutrality. A voice application is much more sensitive to packet latency, jitter, and packet loss then is a file sharing application, which can adapt its rate of transmission and recover lost packets. Applications, like VoIP and gaming, demand real-time priority because they require real-time interaction. Even interactive applications like web browsing, while not necessarily a real-time application, can benefit from prioritization. Do you ever wonder why your Web browsing right after dinnertime seems a bit sluggish? It has a lot more to do with network congestion then it does with the meal you just ate.
Myth 2: Network management is unfair
The words “fairness” and “freedom” has been bandied about a great deal by the proponents of Network Neutrality. If it is somehow “unfair” to manage the network, we will see an era of true unfairness, not to mention unhappiness, with dire consequences for the future of our economy.
Unmanaged networks result in serious degradation of service availability and quality for all users. It will also means that customers will be paying more for less, as providers are forced to continually build out their networks to stay ahead of the massive bandwidth consumption growth. Case in point: one broadband service provider had had to double access network capacity every six weeks, just to keep up with bandwidth demand – with no new subscriber growth – before they began managing network traffic. Capacity costs with no new subscriber revenue will ultimately be passed onto users.
But managing the network does not mean taking away the “freedom” to access content and applications of your choice. It just means freedom within fairness. The best of both worlds. Nor does it mean closing subscriber accounts.
Myth 3: Network management violates privacy
When a service provider deploys technology to manage their networks to improve capacity and quality of service, all they care about is the type of application it is –video streaming, gaming, web, or email, for example – not the content itself.
More importantly, managing the network in this fashion does not use or require:
- Any Personally Identifiable Information (PII);
- Knowledge of a user’s content;
- Knowledge of a user’s URL browsing history;
- Knowledge of a user’s Internet search activity;
- Knowledge of a user’s email topics or content;
- Storing content accessed by a subscriber;
- Capturing and playing back any communications exchange.
And lastly, managing the network in this fashion does not install or require any specific software on user machines.
Myth 4: DPI is just a P2P “Throttling” Technology
DPI is more than just a peer-to-peer management tool. Unfortunately, the particularly “blunt means” used by Comcast has led to some serious misrepresentations and misunderstanding of how the technology is actually used in today’s networks. Few who have been following this debate would understand that DPI is at the heart of ensuring fairness on the network.
DPI is a critical network element that provides information on how the network is being used, when it is used, and optionally, by which applications and groups of subscribers.
On a tactical level, this information supports decisions about capacity planning, investments in access networks and peering networks, and how to improve service quality, especially during peak hours when the network may be congested. On a strategic level, it provides the ability for service providers to transform their business models and their service brands, by offering a variety of service tiers and consumption-based billing models.
Overall, DPI provides the tools necessary to manage the network to ensure fairness, reduce costs and optimize revenues.