The argument about Net Neutrality shouldn’t be about whether Service Providers can make deals with content providers or control the flow of traffic on their network. It should be about how this is presented to the consumer and ensuring that the consumer gets what they are told they are getting without the vague or ambiguous small print. There’s room for all sorts of products in the market place, but the consumer needs to know what they are signing up to.
Back in the early 90’s you could choose between closed services such as Compuserve or an Internet Service Provider. Compuserve was a relatively clean environment with moderated services. The Internet was the wild space where you might find some really useful stuff, but much of it was un-moderated and not always easy to find. The Internet was an open canvas with great flexibility and potential as long as you put some effort into it. Compuserve effectively conditioned the environment to ensure that the services they provided were of a reasonably consistent quality and reduced issues such as spam.
As with computer hardware, we are always pushing the limits of network capabilities, so it makes sense to prioritise traffic so that time critical data can be transmitted at a higher priority than non-time critical data. If an email takes a few minutes longer to arrive, most people wouldn’t even realise. If video stream data takes longer to arrive then you notice it. The more we push the network, the more we will need Quality of Service (QoS) measures to maximise network efficiency.
There are differences between content providers and how they run their service. Some make a big effort to ensure they can provide everybody with their content, such as using multiple providers and content delivery networks. These differences and the quality of their content can be what defines their success or lack of success.
If you have paid for an “Internet” service then you don’t expect your provider to artificially differentiate between content providers. If however you have paid for a “content specific” or “walled garden” service then you expect the promoted content to have a high quality of delivery but would accept that other content may be slow or may not even be accessible.
You are paying for the service provider’s skill in either managing an open connectivity network or identifying and negotiating for high quality content and services. There’s room for tiers within both these types of services too with value added bolt-ons such as security and storage. The walled garden network may even be free to access if it’s funded through content provider sponsorship (buying your attention). Maybe the walled gardens could offer basic Internet services such as messaging. As long as the consumer can clearly understand what they are buying then why constrain the providers’ ability to tune a service to a market?
Marketing seems to be at the heart of all this and at the moment, the consumers are getting a raw deal from confusing marketing information. The Verizon “unlimited” example is clear evidence of this.
At some point in the future, we are likely to want to ensure certain data has a clear path in the same way that we give priority to emergency vehicles even when they are going through a red traffic light. One day we may see doctors performing operations remotely and we certainly don’t want their actions delayed by somebody watching a dancing dog on YouTube.
Let’s not limit our future capabilities with wrongly focused laws.