Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Net Neutrality And The End Of The Internet

To the best of my knowledge, here's what happened. Comcast wasn't happy at a ton of Netflix traffic hitting their network and decided to re-engineer commercial arrangements. All part of the pull-push nature of Internet relationships.

Consequently, after the back & forth, to & fro, pull & push, the yelling & the screaming, now instead of going via a transit carrier, Netflix directly peers with Comcast in a paid-peering arrangement. Par for the course and happens all the time, except in this case, we are told it's the end of the Internet as we know it. Here's the thing. Anyone in the industry will tell you such arrangements and changes occur frequently between parties managing traffic flows and throughput - par for the course, like I said. Ostensibly at least, the bilateral peering arrangement between Netflix and Comcast is similar to all those other such agreements out there collectively allowing the Internet to work.

So, how did it become the end of the Internet, as we know it? Where and how do "Net Neutrality" concerns fit into a peering discussion/dispute/arrangement? And if it does, then does that mean the Comcast - Netflix arrangement is not a peering agreement? Or is it that peering agreements now come within the purview of this Net Neutrality thing? It's left regulatory bodies, ISPs and content providers wondering what the future holds; not just here in the USA but in Asia and Europe as well.

The top most concern voiced across the media is over this whole new cost being applied on the Internet by the likes of Comcast - owner of eyeballs. However Netflix was already paying it's transit carrier to access Comcast. Under the new arrangement, Netflix simply eliminated or reduced its flow via the transit carrier and connected over paid-peering directly to Comcast. Where was the additional hit on the end user? I looked around for data on what Netflix was now paying Comcast, but of course it was confidential. What was it paying its transit carrier earlier? Confidential. The best take on the subject came not from the 'concerned' and the 'aggrieved' but from this blog post: http://blog.streamingmedia.com/2014/02/heres-comcast-netflix-deal-structured-numbers.html.

Next, one decided to dig beyond the plethora of generalities and look at the specifics on how this deal endangered net neutrality. I mustn't be looking carefully because besides populist concerns and appeals to the FCC to intervene and save the Internet, I could not find anything beyond high-level corporate-speak. No real case is out there in public for the likes of me to sink my teeth in. That though, is more than enough for the media to sink their teeth in and before we knew it, the Internet was in peril.

Here's the one thing I did find out. To the best of my knowledge, 'Net Neutrality' as spelt out by the FCC only applied to Comcast, after they acquired NBC. No one else was bound by Net Neutrality provisions until now, with the latest ruling of the FCC who - thanks to the content providers and transit carriers crying murder - has cast itself, going forward, as the champion of the Internet and vowed to ensure there won't be "two Internets." So rather than keep the Internet neutral, we have now allowed the FCC to step in and decide fates. Someone once said, "Be careful what you ask for... "

In conclusion:

1) If the new Netflix - Comcast arrangement is nothing more than paid-peering, then it is nothing more than paid-peering and has nothing to do with 'Net Neutrality'.

2) Even if Comcast is saying they will provide two kinds of paid access via peering, one being best effort and the other being with QoS under SLA, that's also fine and not endangering the Internet. Such arrangements are allowed in Europe, Hong Kong, Japan and elsewhere. It's not a big deal.

3) It only becomes a big deal should traffic be separated based on what's in the packets. If Comcast for example, were to sneak a peek into the packets and not allow video or voice or force them through via different pipes, that would be a concern. Several countries for example, block voice/Skype traffic. That's worrisome. It's not wrong to say however, that I will give you ordinary best effort access and premium access. If the video provider insists on streaming his traffic over best effort access and not use the premium service offered, its up to him and should be allowed. The FCC has a role in ensuring that the actual throughput over a best effort or premium pipe, is actually what the ISP claims it is. Beyond that, it should shy away from interfering in market commerce.

4) One more thing the FCC could do. It could ensure that monopolies remain broken up and that consolidation doesn't mean a dangerously small number of providers holding the customer to ransom. This is what happened in the health insurance market where they carved up the country into turfs for the insurance companies and anti-trust be damned. The same thing appears to the happening over the Internet's last mile in the USA and that's a potential 'Net Neutrality' concern.

Now, please show where I am wrong and blow me out of the water.

By Braham Singh

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