Why Net Neutrality matters?

Over the past few weeks there has been talk about Net Neutrality, including the FCC making rulings. I will be the first to admit that me writing about the issue is a little late, as the decisions have already been made. The decisions are not final and with Joe Lieberman now wanting to be able to turn off the Internet it is time for us to get more involved with the issues.

The item I am concerned about is what happens when Internet access providers start favoring their services over the completion. Now some will say that there is the ability to change the provider of high speed Internet. This issue is not entirely true. Just as one cannot in the United States freely chose which cable television company to use, one cannot freely chose which high speed provider to use. The Internet providers are limited by both technological needs and government mandates. Yes, one can use satellite or wireless or other solutions but it is not always comparing equal delivery of services. Think about the issues AT&T had with traffic saturation and the iPhone.

Currently my options for high-speed Internet access at my home are:

  • Comcast Cable Modem (22Mbps down and 6Mbps up)
  • AT&T DSL (1.5Mbs down/384kbps up)
  • Earthlink or other Dial Up (0.0336Mbs down/33.6kbps up)
  • Hughes Net (2Mbps down300kbps up; capped at 400MB of data a month)
  • FiOs and UVerse are not available

So given these conditions I am pretty sure that all of us would chose Comcast. Also given the pricing structure, Comcast makes the most sense financially. Now Comcast has some programs in place to provide additional services through them for their customer’s use. Comcast offering Mozy is an example of extra services.

From the Comcast press release: “Comcast High-Speed Internet customers automatically receive 2 GB of storage included with their subscription. This amount allows for storage of up to hundreds of photos, music files, or thousands of documents. Comcast also offers a 50 GB storage plan for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 annually, and a 200 GB storage plan for $9.99 monthly or $99.99 annually.” The webpage http://security.comcast.net/backup/details/ outlines the basic examples.

I knew that I needed more than 2GB of backup. I wanted offsite storage in addition to backup. The differences can be subtle between storage and backup, but that is another blog post. After looking at the options I decided to use JungleDisk, it is less expensive per month and has other features I want.

One can easily see how JungleDisk is competition to Mozy. They offer similar services and both require high-speed connectivity to work effectively. What happens if Comcast was to decide to put priority on the traffic to Mozy and degrade the traffic to JungleDisk?

The issue of how one selects a service becomes much more complex. If the bandwidth I am using to connect to JungleDisk is throttled back wouldn’t that change my experience and cause me to think about another solution. All of the sudden Mozy would be much more of an option as a result of being much faster for me as a Comcast user. Having a backup take an hour instead of two hours can be a very big deal – especially if one is trying to backup data before leaving on a trip.

Now you might say, under what guise would Comcast throttle traffic like that, "network management". I easily see a situation where Comcast would decide that backups running at 2AM on everyone’s computer were causing congestion. The first solution any reasonable business is to make sure its customers and partners’ experience is optimized to keep the complaints to a minimum. The majority of the users might be using Mozy since it is included and I would be in the minority using JungleDisk. So the decision made to correct the problem for the majority by providing priority to Mozy would make sense from a customer satisfaction evaluation. I am glossing over the way that this management can be done, it is not just how data is transmitted to my location it is also how the traffic is transmitted across the interconnections of the Internet itself.

Due to the partnership between Mozy and Comcast and possible bandwidth management, Mozy might gain me as a customer while JungleDisk would lose me as a customer. Beyond that I would lose as a consumer as the choice I made would be compromised. I would have to look at the ability to use the service not just the price of the service.

This issue can be applied to many other products, virus protection software, website hosting, picture hosting, voice services. Yes, Vonage and Skype can be blocked and already have been blocked by Internet Service Providers. The same ones that offer phone service. The FCC did require the voice services to be unblocked.

To paint with a very wide and absurd brushstroke, it would be akin to the electric company also selling light bulbs. Of course their light bulbs work better for most users. They did not allow for people to tailor their light bulb choices as the power was optimized to work with the electric company’s bulb vendor. So to get effective lighting, the user is relegated to purchasing what the electric company is selling even if it isn’t the best solution for them.

Let me know if you want me to talk about Comcast now having NBC/Universal content. I am sorry why is Netflix or ABC or Fox or Hulu or …. streaming so slowly?

So when people talk about Net Neutrality, it is not just something for the technophiles. It can impact anyone who uses the Internet.

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