War on Net Neutrality

Here in North America, particularly the United States, battles wage on every level of society. Terrorists dish out threats while blowing things up all over the world on a daily basis, social issues like human rights are always a concern, potentially strange things are going into the food we eat and of course, there is the Internet.

The issues surrounding net neutrality turned the desks of the US Supreme Court into a charred battleground. Both the FCC and popular hosted service providers had been under fire from mega-corporation Internet Service Providers (ISP). The barrels are still hot and chambers may still be smoking as the FCC’s new rules on net neutrality just came into effect within the last week.

Wait… so what’s the issue about again?

To put it as simply as possible, major providers of Internet service tried to every reasonable extent – and sometimes, unreasonable – make sure that net neutrality did not become an enforceable policy by the FCC. Without regulation, ISPs have been free to implement their own brand of rules for services provided.

Major players on the Internet like Google, Netflix and other entities are locked into this altercation as they want the right to provide their service at the highest possible level without roadblocks set forth by ISPs. They feel the Internet should parallel the German autobahns – for the most part, you can drive any vehicle you choose, as fast you like, with very few exceptions.

Now, think of the ISPs as people who maintain the infrastructure for these legendary roadways. Their stance in this analogy assumes vehicles on the road from successful companies (i.e. the network traffic from major Internet services) are like high-speed, militarized tanks built by Bugatti. Those providing services, where the Internet is their only medium, feel their alleged, militarized death machines have a bad rap and should be treated more like a respectable fleet of impeccably maintained, road-safe Ferrari’s.

From the ISP Side of the Argument

To be honest, it has been very hard to support this side of the argument except from a surface level. An ISP has a more granular level view of the Internet. Sketchy and sometimes illegal sites pop up from all over the world on a daily basis. Even the most well-meaning of Internet consumers have stumbled across offensive content or been victim to “trash sites” where malware runs rampant and could seriously hinder not only the performance of a given user’s machine, but also affect more serious matters such as finances.

Technically, this is not an ISP’s problem – nor should it be. A consumer of commodities and services on the Internet should be informed enough to recognize potential scams and malicious sites. Further, those who use more bandwidth should have a modified rate of pay or, to reference the ongoing analogy, be subject to a lower speed limit.

Most major providers of Internet services feel that the infrastructure can’t keep up with the demands of consumers, especially with a massive adoption of services like Amazon Prime, Netflix and traffic from online gaming. This is why companies had pushed for a two-lane system where one accommodates higher paying providers with faster speeds and lower paying customers are stuck with a waterlogged, dirt road, straight out of an Iowa farming county.

From the Service Provider Side of the Argument

Imagine the people at Netflix are like a delivery service where the drivers all have a kind of throw-you-into-your seat sports car. Now picture a new breed of super highways stretching across the nation and through neighborhoods. The governing agencies for transportation support high speeds but the makers of the roads have decided to implement a variety of mechanisms that include roadblocks to limit access to destinations and controls to limit speed.

The FCC produced an eloquent but lengthy argument  in favor of net neutrality earlier this year. This action is heavily in favor of the consumer as no one wants to play a round of Control in Destiny and have to shoot in random areas to kill an opponent on the other team, because the lag is awful should Bungie not pay the ransom to the provider for their server uplink. You paid $400 for your PS4, about $60 for the game, another $50 for a year of PlayStation Plus and you pay money to your ISP for service.

The technology consumer is dishing out enough coin for both entertainment and business purposes. We shouldn’t be victim to fluctuating quality and regular breaks in the action because of buffer times. After all, we have shelled out some good money for our HDTVs and sound systems because we need the immersion while watching The Walking Dead on Netflix because it’s exciting and well…… zombies.

Surface View of Existing Infrastructure

Funny how much money companies like Verizon and Comcast spend on advertising to gain additional customers (yes, in the billions) that will place an additional burden on their infrastructure but complain that revamping and expanding is too costly. In a previous blog posted last year, we pointed out AT&T’s stance during that phase of the net neutrality debate where they took their ball from the playground and went home.

So let’s look at a few examples from major ISPs. I ran a tracert test from a few different locations to illustrate bad and good infrastructure. The following three examples are all tracing to www.google.com – the first three columns show the length of time test packets takes to make a full trip to each node.

tracert over comcast 6-17-2015

Figure 1: Basic Comcast Business Class Service

tracert over att 6-17-2015

Figure 2: AT&T U-verse (not sure the exact package)

tracert over verizon mobile 6-19-2015

Figure 3: Verizon Mobile 4G LTE

tracert from server through cogent 6-17-2015

Figure 4: Cogent Communications

Notice in the Cogent example, not only how few hops sit between the server where the test was run, but how quickly the test packets make a round trip. To be fair, Cogent is purely fiber network with speeds far beyond what the more recognized providers can provide. Though it illustrates the point I’m trying to make, it is a little like a lion fighting Fluffy the house cat.

Basically, the war is at not over just yet as companies like AT&T are now getting hit with massive fines. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see ISPs rally together and somehow find a way out of improving infrastructure or just as bad, receive some kind government bailout at the tax payer’s expense to correct the issues just described.

Final Thoughts

In some ways, major ISPs are correct in the sense that total freedom could cause major meltdown for information services that would lead to massive blackouts. Not to mention, US government agencies don’t have the best track record for implementing wide scale solutions. The fear is that antiquated thinking will hinder these companies and consumers which is a reasonable concern.

With that said, it is not impossible for companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to upgrade their services. It is a huge task with great cost attached. However, it needs to be done.

It’s just like life for everyone else: sometimes you face a big, messy project and you’re reluctant to get started but nevertheless, you need to do it. I don’t want to change the oil, rear brakes, spark plugs, rotate the tires and fix the exhaust heat shield on my Acura this weekend but it needs to be done. I don’t want to walk to work and Internet customers don’t want slow speeds. So please ISPs, throw us a bone!

About the author  ⁄ Nick

By day, Nick does many things – in addition to his work at WhichVoIP, he works in IT, freelances various content and designs websites. He likes to toy with various instruments and also enjoys old-school video games.

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