Should the internet remain neutral or should ISPs be allowed to manage traffic for profit?
Neil Stephenson, CEO at Onyx Group discusses the net neutrality issue, those for and those against it and how managing web traffic can be done in a fair and transparent way.
The debate around net neutrality is an interesting but controversial one. Net neutrality is based on the principles that internet service providers treat all web traffic equally, regardless of what the content is or where it is from and this applies to all data that is passing from content providers to end users (i.e. the customer). As the internet continues to grow at a rapid pace, internet traffic management is the burning issue - and will continue to be until a solution is found.
The debate is focused on what Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should and shouldn’t be doing. This includes whether any ISP should be given the power to block any lawful content or control their infrastructure to prioritise some data over other data. In doing so, some would argue that the internet is no longer neutral as traffic can be managed in a way that meets the needs of a few but not all.
The idea that internet data is managed in a preferential way is something content providers are strongly against as the higher web traffic levels are, the better this is for content providers as it means increased cost. There are also those who think the internet should stay as it is, something that is echoed by web founder Sir Tim Berner-Lees who believes ‘every customer should be able to access every service and every service should be able to access every customer.’
Currently, all web traffic is equal in that it does not depend on how big a company is or how deep its pockets are, as to what priority delivery of its content is given over the internet. This however could change as ISPs look to manage traffic for profit, which is where the disagreement stems from as content providers believe this will disadvantage both the service they provide and the end user experience.
Although rapid internet growth is good news for content providers it has put ISPs under greater strain and they are finding it increasingly difficult to accommodate continued increase in web traffic as multimedia content is fast becoming the norm.
ISPs think they should be allowed to manipulate the data, as long as they’re transparent and are calling for web traffic to be regulated. This would mean that an ISP would actively manage the bandwidth available to certain websites based on the type of provider they are. In terms of how this would affect the end user, they would find they could access some sites and download data much more readily and easily than other sites. In what is known as a ‘two tier internet’, by being able to manage the data rates for different types of content, controlling the pipeline for individual users or at particular times, will mean further bandwidth can be made available to more urgent applications.
Regulating the net in this way would mean that data is preferentially managed, with profit for ISPs generated from content providers paying ISPs to prioritise their traffic on the network. Some are worried however that the introduction of a tiered system would benefit large, well-established content providers who can afford to pay a premium that would be to the detriment of start-ups and others are concerned such management would stifle internet innovation.
In answering whether the net should remain neutral or not, what we need to realise is that the entire debate is a consequence of the very competitive market that has led to some of the large ISPs looking at how they manage web traffic. Basically, ISPs cannot afford to provide an open service at the price they have set - it is too low given how much competition there is. This is why they are now looking at their relationship with content providers to pay for service delivery to make up the shortfall.
If a so-called two tiered internet is to exist, we have to ask whether this is a benefit to businesses and consumers. On the one hand, a tiered system would provide cost effective (at the point of entry) broadband service but is this worth paying? Such a system could potentially stifle innovation and create barriers to entry for new start-ups that won’t be able to get their traffic through.
Ultimately, the customer is king and it is important that any change in web traffic management does not hinder the customer’s experience. Do customers want their ISP dictating to them what services will and will not work over their connections? Would regulating the internet really deliver what businesses need?
As a long established ISP, we believe that service has to remain the priority that best meets and delivers what the customer needs. Whether or not the net remains neutral is yet to be decided - the choice however should always seek to protect customer satisfaction and experience, and always deliver high levels of service.
Onyx Group is a national technology provider specialising in risk management - data security, business continuity - and managed services including cloud computing and outsourcing. For more information please visit www.onyx.net or call 0800 970 92 92.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Neil Stephenson .
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