The Two Tier Internet sub topic of Net Neutrality is currently being discussed by legal wranglers and ISPs as part of the Digital Economy Act. ISPs BT and TalkTalk really want to push through into law that this idea of preferred Internet traffic delivery is a good idea. I had prepared an infographic using a metaphor of the roads for the network but because my graphic skills aren’t great I will repeat it in text form here. If you want to learn more about Net Neutrality or the DEA please subscribe. In another post soon I shall explain what traffic shaping is and how it affects your daily Internet use.
What is Two Tiered Internet?
Pretend, or remember, you live on a quiet winding country lane, this shall represent your Internet connection. Your ISP provides and maintains this road which was built for light traffic. Two bicycles passing another two going the other direction is no trouble. That was what the Internet was like when most Broadband packages were being sold and the Internet went into every home in the country. A text-based webpage could be delivered in the basket of a bike.
Naturally with the rising popularity of the Internet more services were being provided. Peer to peer file sharing became BIG and people were sharing some quite hefty files (think movies or software). Video sites like YouTube became popular, as did On Demand TV from services like SeeSaw, BBC iPlayer and other TV channels. LoveFilm also started to stream movies online. Now people want to watch HD video on their HDTV’s over the net.
Back to our narrow road and not only is the traffic getting busier, the bicycles can’t cope with the heavier data and these services need 40-Ton lorries to carry the load. It may be OK for the road to your house but if the national road network were country lanes, we would all suffer from vehicles not moving anywhere.
So naturally there was a need to build motorways for these data trucks. In reality this means laying more fibre optic cables but lets not ruin the story. Traditional Broadband sales sense would suggest these roads be built then the ISPs could charge the consumer more for higher download speeds. But TalkTalk and BT want to think to the future. What sort of traffic will there be in 20 years time? What is to stop more services from kicking more and more trucks into the network? Their answer is to charge these haulage firms (data heavy service providers or content creators – LoveFilm, iPlayer etc…) to use the roads exclusively. Meanwhile everybody else is stuck using the old roads.
So Why Is Two Tier Internet A Problem?
Because it threatens the open market we have always known the Internet to be. It isn’t owned or controlled by anybody and one website doesn’t have a clear advantage over another. If Two Tiered Internet is allowed the go ahead the Internet is then being controlled – particularly if all ISPs decide this is a good idea. The very beacon of free speech, the most innovative and life changing communication method since talking is now being threatened with control and access will be granted to the highest bidder. And it will work because the consumer loves speed. Though ISPs will not be allowed to deny access to a service by law the consumer would be unaware who is using the toll-roads and will choose the service that loads over the site that doesn’t. You know how frustrating it is when a video pauses with a spinning ‘loading’ gif.
It’ll also be even harder for Startups to get traction when the competition that started in an open market now has preference. Consider this, would non-profit crowd-sourced Wikipedia have made it if a commercial encyclopedia provided a faster service? Whose version of the world would we reference then? If you mention Murdoch a shudder gets sent down my spine.
Another reason against the Tier system is the natural collusion and hidden deals involved in big business. If the ISPs are given legal go ahead to provide preferential treatment to whoever they choose there will be friendly inside deals. BT happens to have a Internet TV service, how convenient they should have a network where they can provide faster service than everybody else!
Two Tier Internet is also a chance to grab twice the cash by the ISPs. They will charge both the sender of the package and the receiver for using the road. Do you pay road tolls for receiving parcels?
I know the networks are busy but that is no reason to split an open market into tiers. These traffic creators already get charged for bandwidth just like home consumers so they don’t kick out traffic for fun. I think the ISPs and cable providers should be encouraging an open market and charge per vehicle rather than roads used. That and lay more fibre cables, where we’re going we do need roads, lots of them
The sad thing is that the consumer won’t be able to do much about this, especially if all ISPs get on board. That’s why the fight for Net Neutrality and a rethink of the Grade F school-work that is the Digital Economy Act is vital.
Photo credits: http://www.geograph.ie/profile/3462, http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/244