Neutralizing the Internet

The U.S. Congress has been considering legislation that would regulate Internet traffic and essentially guarantee everyone the same quality of service.

Proponents of this so-called Net Neutrality would have you believe that without proper legislation the companies providing backbone support for the Internet could eventually take it away from you. In other words, only businesses that are able to pay exhorbitant fees would be able to communicate on the information superhighway. While end-consumers would be allowed traffic data on the Internet network, data transmissions for top-tier commercial companies would take precidence.

Let me give an example to help clarify the issue. Imagine you have recently signed up with a popular VoIP provider, but the transmissions have been choppy and your conversations are being cut off. While the VoIP service has plenty of bandwidth to the Internet, your voice traffic can’t get there because it is competing with so much other network activity (email, web browsing, instant messaging, video and various other multimedia applications). In a competative climate, your VoIP provider could enter into an agreement with your ISP and guarantee a greater quality of service to your voice packets using an alternate network with a higher capacity.

As a consumer you would expect the VoIP provider to pass this additional cost to you but this ultimately has the benefit that you are able to reliably make phone calls over the Internet.

Unfortunately, in a net-neutral world this kind of business arrangement would be forbidden. Every user will have the same level of access to the network regardless of the application. This means another VoIP company can startup and provide the same lousy service as your current VoIP provider, and while they might be able to charge less money they won’t be able to work with any of the major network carriers to improve their product.

This kind of restriction is silly and counter productive. While computing technology is on the verge of convergence, the Internet infrastructure is not prepared to support it. It should be up to the businesses that demand this next level of transmission capacity to also demand the infrastructure to support it. If everyone is allowed to monopolize bandwidth on the Internet, consumers will be faced with an ever-increasing monthly bill to pay for new connectivity they are not necessarily using.