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File This Under Bad Idea

LegislationTechnologyThe House is considering reforms to our telecom laws and many a blogger is fired up about the expected – though probably absent – net neutrality clause. Ars Technica shares some thoughts.

Thankfully, that won’t be the end of the issue. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) plans to introduce additional legislation this week that would prevent the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast from hindering traffic from outside its network and giving its own content preferential treatment. As Sen. Wyden describes it, his legislation would “make sure all information (transmitted over broadband networks) is made available on the same terms so that no bit is better than another one.

In the words of Egon from the Ghostbusters, “That would be bad.”

Why? Because these networks are already managed to guarantee quality. If you actually do what Wyden suggests, and mandate a “first come first served” protocol for bit traffic, you can pretty much guarantee your Vonage, Skype, BitTorrent, and other high-bandwidth applications will degrade instantly to a point of near uselessness.

When packets that need to be kept together with very little loss (like video and audio) come in, the networks are smart enough to route them quickly and together. They require, by nature of their function, that one bit must be treated differently and must get priority. If you pass a law that says nobody gets priority and everything has to compete, your calls will experience loss and your video will stutter.

I’m somewhat shocked that Ars Technica, a respected technology journal, would be “thankful” for legislation that would mandate degraded service.

UPDATE: Wyden’s Senate web site contains this explanation/release. Most troubling is this:

Network neutrality is the concept that all content on the Internet should get equal treatment.

And this:

Not interfering with, blocking, degrading, altering, modifying or changing traffic on the Internet

Some traffic requires the changing of routes (changing traffic) in order to guarantee it’s quality. That principle, if not well defined in legislation, could cause significant damage to the Internet.

(Disclaimer: While I work for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, this post should in no way be construed as an official position of the Association. Thoughts in this space are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the views of my employer.)

Written by Michael Turk