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Business - Written by on Friday, March 28, 2008 12:07 - 0 Comments

Don Tapscott
It’s time to deal with the Net Neutrality issue

It seems that Canada may have finally woken up to the Net Neutrality issue that’s recieved far, far more press in the U.S. – though I’d still argue not enough. (If you want a really good detail on all the history behind Net Neutrality, the wikipedia page on this topic is amazing, right down to the 66 references and footnotes that could keep you reading for days.)

In short, my feelings are that a lack of Net Neutrality is something that damages the Internet experience for everyone, and by extension threatens many of the amazing innovations and collaborative tools that are trying to emerge. Thankfully, we might be reaching a point where this issue gets dealt with once and for all.

David Reed’s opening statement to the FCC Commissioners on Net Neutrality (with particular reference to what Comcast has been up to) is pointed in the right direction. To quote his three main points:

  • First, providing Internet Access implies adherence to a set of standard technical
    protocols and technical practices that are essential for the world-wide Internet to work for all its users.
  • Second, variances from those standard protocols and practices damages the Internet as a whole, and all of its users.
  • Third, there are standard, industry-accepted processes for resolving problems that come up as the Internet evolves, including disclosure of measurement data, discussion and joint definition of new protocols, etc.

Michael Giest covers what’s happened in Canada recently exceedingly well in the post The Bell Wake Up Call.  The focus is on how Bell has quietly revamped their network to allow for throttling at the residential and wholesale level – basically restrict bandwidth access at their whim.

As the Globe and Mail reported a couple of days ago, many 3rd party ISPs were directly affected without warning, as restrictions on torrent and P2P traffic popped up out of nowhere. Or to quote a disgruntled gentleman from the article:

“They [Bell] are screwing with our data, which is not their property. Every single third-party ISP in Canada is going to be affected by this.”

But it’s not just ISPs being hit – Rich Baker has a great post about the trouble this has caused for his company Glance Networks. Glance is trying to enable key components of the next generation enterprise, through services like online presentations and web demos. A few years ago a slew of complaints started flying in that the service had slowed to a crawl. All the calls were from Canada. Thankfully Glance solved their problem, but it doesn’t sound like they got a lot of help:

This experience illustrates why additional rules need to be imposed on ISPs. While we were working the problem, customers were understandably stuck wondering who was telling them the truth. Their ISP was saying “all is well” and that “nothing has changed”, both of which turned out to be wrong. But how were they to know? Their other Web traffic flowed normally. From their perspective, only our service had slowed.

Luckily, we quickly discovered that by changing a few parameters in our service, we were able to restore normal performance to our Canadian customers. But the Canadian ISPs were of no help. For over a year, they denied even using traffic shaping, let alone what criteria they used to single out “bad” traffic. We were forced to find our own “workaround” by trial and error.

And there’s the rub.

Imagine for a moment that regional phone companies were allowed to “manage their congestion” by implementing arbitrary methods that block a subset of phone calls on their network. People whose calls got blocked would be at a loss to know why some calls failed to connect, while others continued to go through normally. Such behavior would never be tolerated in our telephony market. Yet we allow ISPs to “manage their congestion” this way today.

Imagine indeed. Also note that almost every writer on this subject notes that the cozy arrangement in Canada, where 1 or 2 ISPs dominate the market, is a huge part of the problem.

This issue needs to be sorted out pronto.

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