Friday, March 28, 2008

The question of net neutrality

Three days ago, Comcast announced that it is reversing its policy of blocking peer to peer (P2P) traffic selectively during peek hours of traffic. Although Comcast had never announced this as a stated policy, numerous studies in last year or two had showed P2P performing substantially poor over Comcast compared to competing ISPs. So the question of Internet neutrality has become an immensely debated subject over the last year. Many ISPs are actively lobbing Congress against Internet neutrality, while there is at least one prominent group, for net neutrality.

The reason I take up this for discussion in this forum is that it is actively tied to the idea of open access, which has been discussed here in past, see here and here for more details.

While I don't agree with Comcast in this case since I think it illegally manipulated traffic without making its customers aware of it, I don't claim to be a proponent of net neutrality either. I think that there is a legitimate demand for Quality of Service (QoS) applications such as video and voice of the internet, and the same cannot be delivered by carriers and content providers unless there is a sound business and revenue model to deliver the same.

Currently we lack a good availability of QoS because of what an erstwhile colleague of mine correctly described as "fingerpointing". In short, Content Providers blame ISPs for not having QoS guaranteed pipes, because of which they cannot deliver enhanced QoS applications. ISPs blame users for not willing to pay for such services because of which there is no revenue model to deploy infrastructure to deliver QoS. And users blame content providers for not providing such QoS services for which they would be willing to subscribe to.

Not sure of how to get out of this, but I think there is a need to fast express lanes in the Internet for advanced services. After all, no one complains when they pay a toll to use a bridge on a highway. Similarly in many cities of the world, there are tolls to use express roads in certain hours. I am sure that a similar approach will work well in the internet.

Any thoughts, please post your comments here.

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