The Flipside of Net Neutrality: The Impracticality of a Pure Model

Recently I suggested that you consider submitting a public filing comment to the FCC while they’re asking for opinions on “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet.”  As a starting point, I suggested using the following:

“I believe in the concept of Net Neutrality as put in place and that with limited exceptions, all content of the same type should be treated equally without discrimination. Allowing network providers to prioritize content on a fee basis is a slippery slope and I believe that it is much more likely that innovation will be stifled.”

This statement falls short of insisting on a completely pure implementation of net neutrality because I did use the phrase “limited exceptions” and I did reference “content of the same type.”

Why did I not insist on a “no exceptions” policy?

Because the truth is, there is a need for a level of internet traffic management to make the Internet useful. Management of Internet traffic implies that some discrimination is taking place – and we are not, therefore, arguing for the purest implementation of net neutrality. We can probably all agree that discrimination is helpful in some cases; for example:

  • Spam filtering
    You probably have a spam folder where some spam gets routed and because of this you probably see very, very few spam messages in your inbox on any given day.  Did you know that there are likely more than ten times as many spam messages that never reach your spam folder? The great majority of all email messages traveling across the Internet are spam and the largest portion gets filtered out long before it gets close to your mailbox.
  • Virus, Malware, Phishing
    Most network providers have some level of traffic blocking that prevents you from getting to websites that are only meant to harm you.
  • Denial of Service Attacks
    There are organizations that simply bombard websites with so much traffic that it is impossible for legitimate users to use the website. These organizations then demand a ransom payment from the website owner in exchange for stopping the attack.

There is another type of traffic management that also makes sense – prioritization based on content type. If someone in your house is browsing Facebook and someone else is watching a streamed video from Netflix, you may prefer that the Netflix video stream be given priority over Facebook traffic. In this case, what determines the priority treatment is the fact that the content (or data) is video rather than that the content is coming from Netflix.

As Google CEO Eric Schmidt has stated, “I want to be clear what we mean by Net neutrality: What we mean is if you have one data type like video, you don’t discriminate against one person’s video in favor of another. But it’s okay to discriminate across different types, so you could prioritize voice over video, and there is general agreement with Verizon and Google on that issue.”

The decision to prioritize legitimate traffic should not be made on the basis of a financial negotiation between a content provider and the network provider.  If a decision is to be made that impacts the quality of the content service I’m receiving at my home, I should be the one making the decision, not the network provider.