David Canton – For the London Free Press – March 11, 2006
Read this on Canoe
Internet service providers (ISPs) have been considering a new approach to their service, one that may result in a fundamental shift in how we pay for Internet access and the quality of service we receive.
The concept revolves around “traffic shaping” or the two-tiered Internet. It is of significant concern because it is counter to the concept of network neutrality, where all data over the Internet is treated equally.
The premise is this. ISPs provide users with access to the Internet. Think of it as providing the “pipe.” Users pay the ISP a monthly fee for that and may pay additional fees to their ISP or others for particular services coming through the pipe, such as VoIP phone service.
Traffic shaping is about prioritizing certain traffic over the Internet. It can be used for quality of service or to impair certain traffic.
For example, an ISP might use it to make their own VoIP service work well, but degrade the performance of other VoIP providers. Or they might use it in an attempt to control what they view as bandwidth hogs or illegal activity, such as file downloading.
Several telecom firms have complained businesses such as Google and Vonage use their networks for free and want to charge them more than under the traditional model.
One commentator likened this to an airline charging Time Warner every time a passenger brings their own copy of Time magazine on an airplane.
Some ISPs say third-party providers of content, information or services accessed over the Internet have two choices. If they pay additional fees, their traffic gets priority. If they don’t, users may get reduced performance.
That means traffic shaping will cross the line from Internet management that ensures quality and neutral service to fundamentally affecting the quality of third-party service.
This approach has been severely criticized. Critics call for network neutrality. Concern has been so great, it resulted in U.S. Senate hearings on the matter and proposed U.S. legislation.
Some are concerned the lack of network neutrality will stifle the development of Internet technology.
The argument is that the company that pays the ISP will receive the best access to users, meaning any competitors who don’t pay the ISP will receive lower-quality access to users.
Thus, the ISP and not users will decide which company offers the best service. The ISP interests then shift from providing the best service to the user in a competitive market to satisfying the interests of companies willing to pay for enhanced service.
In addition to altering the competitive playing field between independent providers of the same service, it allows an ISP an advantage for any service it wants to provide, as it can ensure it works better than other services.
We should pay the ISP for the data pipe coming into our homes as a service on its own, as we do now.
Whatever data we consume or create over that pipe (including voice and video), may or may not come from the same ISP. ISPâs should compete for those data services on their own merits – not by tinkering with the pipe.
The concept of network neutrality is important to the continued use of the Internet as we know it, and a level playing field for service providers of all kinds.