Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Battle for Net Neutrality

I'm not sure how many of you are in IT and/or undestand and have been following what has been going on with large telco's that provide Internet access to the country; but this is something that affects us all and I just wanted to bring it to your attention.

Basically, the large telco's (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) are trying to push Congress to permit charging additional fees for the use of a connection to the Internet. In the past, you paid for a connection to your ISP, and you connected to a host who paid for service through their ISP. Along the way, you will likely travel through connections (that our tax dollars paid for, mind you) that were laid in place by these large telco's. It's the nature of the Internet. In this situation, the speed of the connection between you and the host you connected to, is limited by the slowest link along the way (by the way, for the curious, when a company buys a dedicated (non-shared) connection to the Internet, ISP's generally charge a little more than double what it costs for your connection to the ISP. This is because you have to pay for your connection to the Internet, and a connection on the ISP's side that can adequately supply the bandwidth of the connection you paid for). That was how things worked in the past.

This push, however, is an attempt to split the Internet into two "lanes" (for lack of better words). A fast lane and a slow lane. In this new Internet, if the host you're connecting to (e.g., Google, Amazon, etc.) does not subscribe to the services provided by the fast lane, your connection will travel down the slow side. The biggest problem with this is that the connection to the host did not change. The hosts have already been paying for unrestricted use of their connection since the connection was originally purchased. However, greety telo's would now like to collect money twice for the same service! It's insanity! And ultimately, consumers will be the ones that end up paying.

If this doesn't make sense to you, I've throught up an anology that I hope can make it a little clearer.

I say we picture the Internet pipes just like a garden hose in our yard. The flow of water through the hose is limited to the physical attributes that make up the hose (for sake of simplicity, ignore water pressure for the moment. But if one wanted to include this in the analogy, simply think of water pressure as the maximum bandwidth your LAN supports (e.g., 100 Mb/Sec, 1 Gb/Sec)). When you buy your hose, you expect to get the maximum flow of water through the hose that the hose can possibly permit. However, unless you pay for the super speedy hose subscription, this new hose comes with a special end that can only be screwed into a device, which slows down the flow of water at the end of the hose. From here, you can screw in whatever attachments you would like to use.

As you can see, the flow of water up to this super stupid device is unrestricted by anything other than the characteristics that originally limited the flow of water through the hose. But somebody wants to rob us of our money and claim that we're getting a free ride by leaving out the device that restricts the flow of water!

Whether this is something you understand or not, I urge you to write letters to your representatives supporting Net Neutrality (the unrestricted flow of the Internet). Believe it or not, as of now, the telco's are winning big time so we really need all the help we can get.

If anybody has been following the battle towards Net Neutrality and has an opposing view, feel free to share your opinion.

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