Wikipedia defines network neutrality as the principle that
Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication
Let me explain the situation to you in a simple way. Say, I put up a post that bores you with my daily office commute. It has a 30 minute, 30 MB video shot from a HD camera fixed to my helmet; and a hundred 1 MB stills from the video. Soon, this post draws 100 unique views (I can dream!). One of the views is from you – my reader.
I host this website on Leanservers. I pay them for hosting. Part of that money goes towards server hardware cost. A non-trivial part goes towards bandwidth cost. This is the money that goes to a chain of companies – to Leanservers first, who then pay their data center, who then pay their telecom service provider, and so on until some amount reaches the companies who maintain the inter-continental submarine fiber-optic links – the physical backbone of the modern Internet. For my commute post, the details are 130 MB storage and 13 GB bandwidth. At the end of my billing cycle, I will get a nice bill for both.
You subscribe to an ISP, obviously. May be a 150GB monthly plan with 2Mbps/512Kbps speed limits. When you load my commute blog post, your monthly quota will go down by 130MB and the page will load in… just over 8 minutes. What if you have an unlimited plan? The cost structure of an unlimited plan is determined by estimating how much the user will download in the billing cycle. Nonetheless, you have paid the ISP and through the ISP, the entire telecom food chain up to the submarine cable companies.
Thus, it is clear all involved parties receive payment for their services.
Some people like Xavier Niel, owner of France’s Free ISP, however, believe this is not fair. He states that my video will choke Free’s bandwidth and hence I should pay Free extra so that my visitors from that particular ISP can view my beautiful commute post in its entirety. This violates the net neutrality principle in many ways.
- How is Free quantifying that my video will choke the bandwidth? Video is data – electronic bytes. A 30 minutes video is equal to N number (admittedly some huge number) of chat messages. Tomorrow, if chat programs choke Free’s bandwidth, will Mr. Niel ask Yahoo!, MSN (Microsoft), GTalk (Google), etc. to start paying Free money to facilitate online chat?
- If it is “heavy” content like videos and VOIP that chokes the bandwidth, why did Free recently block advertisements, specially Google AdServe? One would think that Google’s ads are some of the least obtrusive and most bandwidth efficient ads around. This was a veiled attempt to gain leverage against Google’s Youtube. This block was done in a software update at the router level – the routers that they give to their users; and blocking was enabled by default.
- Mr. Niel has a stake in a newspaper – Le Monde. (I am not in France; can someone check whether it is completely ad-free and without high-quality images?) There is an ongoing battle in Europe and the US where newspapers are trying to make Google pay for links to their websites appearing in search results and in the Google News application. Think about it – Google helps them get more traffic (and earn money if they are not complete idiots) and they want it to pay for the “privilege” of doing so!
Sanity prevailed and Free was forced to roll back this block, by the French Digital Economy minister, no less!
Many ISPs in Europe and the United States are attempting to charge content providers for the “privilege” of being accessible by their customers. Video streaming sites are the first batch of possible victims of this onslaught. VOIP applications will come next. Chat apps will follow – just imagine if ISPs start charging for reducing latency of chat messages. They can make or break entire social networks.
- The heavy data argument is a false flag planted by the ISPs. The intention is to distract the ISP’s customers and regulatory bodies from the dismal state of last mile infrastructure that these companies maintain. And of course, they weasel out of maintaining and expanding even core backbone infrastructure. After investment banking and patent trolling, ISPs earn the most obscene amounts of profit.
- Free gained its market share by offering services at disruptive prices to its customers. If the customer doesn’t pay, who pays for telecom infrastructure costs? This model is never sustainable in the long-term. Now Free is attempting to extort money from content providers to continue providing subsidized services to their customers. The content providers either pay the ISPs or have their ad revenue dry up.
Be vigilant. Should such a threat arise in your service area, write to your ISP and complain to your regulatory body in the clearest and firmest of terms.
Techworld.com has a piece with a beautiful explanation
Put very simply, some ISPs resent being turned into dumb pipes over which companies such Google rake in profits from consumers. Controversially, their answer is to seek to control – or in this case a block – on such services until such time as they can get a cut.
Put simply, that’s all they are. Dumb pipes. If their customers are drawing more content than the pipes can handle, the problem lies between the customer and the ISP. Obviously the customer will demand fatter pipes at same or marginally higher cost. It is up to the ISP to make this upgrade fit within their operating margins. Whatever they decide, charging content providers or blocking ads is not the solution.
- French ISP Free Blocks All Ads to Piss Off Google – Consumer Group Concern Results in Government Wrist Slap (dslreports.com)
- The truth about Free AdGate: It’s a war against Google, and net neutrality is its hostage (thenextweb.com)
- YouTube sucks on French ISP Free, and French regulators want to know why [NewTeeVee Station] (gigaom.com)
- French ISPs Want Google to Pay for the Internet You Pay Them for Already (news.softpedia.com)