Internet Service Providers Plan to Subvert Net Neutrality. Don’t Let Them

Deeplinks 2024-04-19


In the absence of strong net neutrality protections, internet service providers (ISPs) have made all sorts of plans that would allow them to capitalize on something called "network slicing." While this technology has all sorts of promise, what the ISPs have planned would subvert net neutrality—the principle that all data be treated equally by your service provider—by allowing them to recreate the kinds of “fast lanes” we've already agreed should not be allowed. If their plans succeed, then the new proposed net neutrality protections will end up doing far less for consumers than the old rules did.

The FCC released draft rules to reinstate net neutrality, with a vote on adopting the rules to come the 25th of April. Overall, the order is a great step for net neutrality. However, to be truly effective the rules must not preempt states from protecting their residents with stronger laws and clearly find the creation of “fast lanes” via positive discrimination and unpaid prioritization of specific applications or services are violations of net neutrality.

Fast Lanes and How They Could Harm Competition

Since “fast lanes” aren’t a technical term, what do we mean when we are talking about a fast lane? To understand, it is helpful to think about data traffic and internet networking infrastructure like car traffic and public road systems. As roads connect people, goods, and services across distances, so does network infrastructure allow for data traffic to flow from one place to another. And just as a road with more capacity in the way of more lanes theoretically means the road can support more traffic moving at speed1, internet infrastructure with more “lanes” (i.e. bandwidth) should mean that a network can better support applications like streaming services and online gaming.

Individual ISPs have a maximum network capacity, and speed, of internet traffic they can handle. To continue the analogy, the road leading to your neighborhood has a set number of lanes. This is why the speed of your internet may change throughout the day. At peak hours your internet service may slow down because a slowdown has occurred from too much requested traffic clogging up the lanes.

It’s not inherently a bad thing to have specific lanes for certain types of traffic, actual fast lanes on freeways can improve congestion by not making faster moving vehicles compete for space with slower moving traffic, having exit and entry lanes in freeways also allows cars to perform specialized tasks without impeding other traffic. A lane only for buses isn’t a bad thing as long as every bus gets equal access to that lane and everyone has equal access to riding those buses. Where this becomes a problem is if there is a special lane only for Google buses, or for consuming entertainment content instead of participating in video calls. In these scenarios you would be increasing the quality of certain bus rides at the expense of degraded service for everyone else on the road.

An internet “fast lane” would be the designation of part of the network with more bandwidth and/or lower latency to only be used for certain services. On a technical level, the physical network infrastructure would be split amongst several different software defined networks with different use cases using network slicing. One network might be optimized for high bandwidth applications such as video streaming, another might be optimized for applications needing low latency (e.g. a short distance between the client and the server), and another might be optimized for IoT devices. The maximum physical network capacity is split among these slices. To continue our tortured metaphor, your original six lane general road is now a four lane general road with two lanes reserved for, say, a select list of streaming services. Think dedicated high speed lanes for Disney+, HBO, and Netflix, but those services only. In a network neutral construction of the infrastructure, all internet traffic shares all lanes, and no specific app or service is unfairly sped up or slowed down. This isn’t to say that we are inherently against network management techniques like quality of service or network slicing. But it’s important that quality of service efforts be undertaken, as much as possible, in an application agnostic manner.

The fast lanes metaphor isn’t ideal. On the road having fast lanes is a good thing, it can protect more slow and cautiou


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Chao Liu, Cooper Quintin

Date tagged:

04/19/2024, 22:31

Date published:

04/19/2024, 19:54