Network Neutrality – it’s a simple concept, that ISPs should not discriminate for or against any particular traffic flowing over their networks, but it has been a very contentious issue in Internet governance for the last few years. Critics claim that without net neutrality, ISPs will become a kingmaker, where because they control the means of delivering Internet services, they would have the ability to pick and choose favored services and give preferential or even exclusive access to those services to their customers. On the other hand, the ISPs argue that, with the explosive growth in Internet traffic—much of it is from a select few entities (Netflix and Youtube are the most often cited)—they need the ability to control the amount of traffic these entities send over their last mile, or they need to be able to directly charge those entities to account for their disproportionate use of the ISP’s network.
This year, the net neutrality issue has reached a head in the US, with a number of controversial events occurring that are pushing the issue to the forefront. In January, the FCC lost a court case and with this loss, the net neutrality guidelines issued by the FCC in 2010 were struck down. After this loss, the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that explicitly allowed for paid prioritization deals of the kind net neutrality advocates decried. This provoked an explosive response from pretty much all the major Internet stakeholders and advocacy organizations, which is ongoing to this day.
Parallel to this, we have seen Netflix establish direct peering relationships with most of the major ISPs in the US, sparking a discussion about how peering relationships relate to the idea of network neutrality. In the past, peering relationships, which were generally established by relatively equal organizations, were for the purpose of carrying transit traffic (i.e. traffic whose destination is not on the carrier’s network). While there was the occasional peering dispute (usually involving Cogent as one of the parties), this generally worked out fine for all parties. These new relationships, however, are of a substantially different character. First, the traffic involved is not transit traffic, it’s traffic destined for the ISP’s network, and second, Netflix claims that the ISPs have deliberately allowed their external connections to the big transit providers (like Level3) to become saturated.
This should be a good introduction to this contentious issue, and for those interested, I invite them to comment on the FCC’s proposed rules here:
https://fcc.gov/comments, under Proceeding 14-28.