The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently repealed the net neutrality guidelines that it implemented less than three years ago. There has been much discussion, speculation and concern about how that move will impact the Internet, small business and consumers. Many people have suggested that one effect of the repeal will be that video streaming and other cloud hosted, web-delivered media will start to cost much more for the consumer.
It became unlawful for broadband providers to decide to slow down or block certain web traffic when the 2015 regulations were enacted by the FCC. Actually, the 2015 rules did not incorporate enterprise web access, which is often custom. They did, however, safeguard the flow of data to small businesses.
FCC chair Ajit Pai and other lawmakers take the position that the policies and practices of net neutrality are unnecessary rules which make it less likely that people will invest in broadband networks, placing an unfair strain on internet service providers (ISPs). That perspective does not seem to be aligned with that of the public, according to a poll from the University of Maryland showing that 83% of voters favored keeping the net neutrality rules in place.
What is net neutrality, exactly?
The basic notion behind the concept of net neutrality, according to a report by Don Sheppard in IT World Canada, is that the government should ensure that both all bits of data and all information providers are treated in the same way.
Net neutrality makes it illegal to have paid priority traffic, throttle, block, or perform similar tasks (see below).
Sheppard noted that there are two basic technical principles related to internet standards that are part of the basis for net neutrality:
- End-to-end principle – Functions related to applications should not take place at intermediate nodes but instead at endpoints within networks used for general purposes.
- Best efforts delivery – There can be no performance guarantee but instead a demand for best efforts for equal, nondiscriminatory packet delivery.
IoT: harder for startups to compete?
Growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) is closely connected to the expansion of cloud computing – since the former standard uses the latter as its backend. In terms of impact on the IoT, Nick Brown noted in IOT For All that the repeal of net neutrality will result in an uneven playing field in which it will become more difficult for smaller organizations, while larger firms will be able to form tighter relationships with ISPs.
The issue of greater latency is key to the removal of net neutrality, because latency could arise as sites are throttled (decelerated). The reason that throttling would occur between one device and another is that ISPs may want some devices (perhaps ones they build themselves) to have better performance than others.
Some people think the impact of the net neutrality repeal on the IoT will be relatively minor. However, many thought leaders think there will be a significant effect since IoT devices rely so heavily on real-time analysis.
Entering a pay-to-play era
Throttling, or slowing throughput, could occur with video streaming services and other sites. Individual cloud services could be throttled. Enterprises could have difficulty with apps that they host in their own data centers, too, since those apps require a fast internet connection to function as well.
There will be a pay-to-play scenario for web traffic instead of just using bandwidth to set prices, according to Forrester infrastructure analyst Sophia Vargas.
There is competition between wired and wireless services that has resulted from changes to their pricing models following the repeal of net neutrality, said Vargas. The pricing is per bandwidth for wired, landline services, while it is per data for wireless services. Wireless services will have the most difficulty because wired services are controlled by a smaller number of ISPs.
There will be more negotiations and volatility in the wireless than in the wired market, noted Vargas. Competition is occurring “in the ability for enterprises to essentially own or get more dedicated [wired] circuits for themselves to guarantee the quality of service on the backend,” she added.
Does net neutrality really matter?
The extent to which people are committing themselves to one side or the other gives a sense of how critical net neutrality is from a political, commercial and technical perspective. A consumer should be aware of the potential for companies to mistreat them without these protections in place (which is not to say those abuses will occur).
Ways that ISPs could perform in a manner that go against the precepts of net neutrality are:
- Throttling – Some services or sites could be treated with slower or faster speeds.
- Blocking – Getting to the services or sites of competitors to the ISP could become impossible because those sites are blocked.
- Paid prioritization – Certain websites, such as social media powerhouses, could pay to get better performance (in reliability and speed) than is granted to competitors that may not have the same capital to influence the ISP.
- Cross-subsidization – This process occurs when a provider offers discounted or free access to additional services.
- Redirection – Web traffic is sent from a user's intended site to a competitor’s site.
Rethinking mobile apps
Another aspect of technology that will need to be rethought in the post-repeal world is improving efficiency by developing less resource-intensive mobile apps that are delivered through more geographically distributed infrastructure. Local caching could also help, and delivery of apps that serve video and images should potentially be restructured.
You can already look at file size to create better balance in the way you deliver video and images to mobile users. However, the rendering, quantity that is stream-loaded (to avoid additional pings), and other aspects are optimized with net neutrality as a given.
Providers of content delivery networks (CDNs) will need to re-strategize the methods they use to optimize enterprise traffic.
Cost has been relatively controlled in the past, according to Vargas. There is an arena of performance management and wireless area network (WAN) optimization software that was created to manage speed and reliability for data centers and mobile. Those applications will no longer work correctly because they were engineered with traffic equality as a defining principle. Hence, providers will have to adapt to meet the guidelines of the new paradigm.