Friday, December 3, 2010

Net Neuter Reality

Geeks everywhere clamor for "Net Neutrality".  Don't tread on me... or my data.  And if the FCC has their way that'll be exactly what happens.  My guess: it isn't going to make the geeks happy.  It's a nice slogan to rally behind... but the reality is quite different.

The geeky idea here is that the evil ISPs are stepping all over their packets and making life miserable for them all for the idea that some premium corporate service gets better tubes than you do.  Or that evil ISPs will block their competition just upstream of YOUR HOUSE.  And, in a way, they're right.  There are little bits of truth here.  Very little. 

Truth is a modern ISP probably has multiple services going on: web, email, DNS, ftp, voice, video and a whole host of unimaginable data services... maybe even burglar alarms, traffic lights, surveillance cameras...  And while you may think your traffic is more important than mine, it turns out the importance isn't so much a perspective of whose data it is, but what kind.

If you are sitting around in your underwear surfing the web, you are dealing with very interactive data.  Click... ebay.  Click... amazon.  Click... porn.  Click... order a pizza.  While it's cool that the time between "click" and "porn" is small... it isn't critical to the operation.  If it takes half a second or three-quarters of a second... it doesn't really matter.

Voice and video are different.  If you have an  stream of Grey's Anatomy that is redrawing your screen (which is possibly 1,920×1,080 little dottie bits) 24 times a second...  and you miss a half a second.... that's very different.  You'll get little sparkley bits of frozen crap on the screen. 

The same is true of your phone call.  If little parts get delayed or dropped out... I'll start stuttering and -ou wi-- -ear --ly -arts of --e --nversat--n.

Now, enter government.  They'll fix it.  They fix everything.  They argue that since they're regulating telephone and television... it just makes sense.  Of course, telephone was built as a government mandated monopoly back in the days of Ma Bell.  The regulation was in trade for a guaranteed sack of cash.  Television operated on radio waves the government stepped in and decided they owned...  ISPs, on the other hand, built their own networks with their own money... and it is not something that is cheap to build. 

ISPs hauling huge mounds of data (video, telephones, etc) from place to place and they're renting you the part they have left over.  In short, Disney is subsidizing your internet access cost in exchange for the ability for you to watch the latest sitcom on ABC.  Net neutrality wants to make all data equal... and the only way it can do that is to make the pipes bigger or the data smaller.

Do you want fewer TV channels?  Do you want more fast busy signals?  Lower resolution TV shows?  Do you want higher cost access fees to subsidize bigger pipes?  Stuttery voice conversations?  Frozen TV shows?  These are the trade offs that will come, in some combination, with true protocol agnostic networks.

Think back.  What has been the most growth intensive thing in your lifetime?  What has changed the landscape more than anything?  For me, it's clearly the internet.  Was it built on the bones of a government network?  Sure.  But that network grew at a snail's pace until it fell in the unregulated hands of the private sector.  And it has made more money for more people than could have ever been imagined.  Why, in your wildest dreams, would anyone think pulling it under federal controls would help?