What’s this about Net Neutrality?

As a professional in the field of web hosting, I see the effects of our current lack of Net Neutrality every day. It’s not immediately apparent to the average individual, but companies that are hardest hit (Netflix for example) are starting to change that, such as with their recent decision to start calling out ISPs in their “we’ve got to reduce your video quality” message. In response, Verizon has come back with legal threats and claims that the issue is the path Netflix chooses to use to get their content to Verizon’s network. This is only true in that Netflix could “choose” to cave in to Verizon and pay more to directly connect to their network. To help you understand why, I’ll need to explain a bit about how the internet works.

On the internet, there are three types of providers. The first is the service providers like Google, Netflix, GoDaddy, and any number of other service networks. Second, you have the “interconnection” networks who you’ve probably never heard of but make up the backbone of the internet. Last, you have so-called “eyeball networks” who deliver service to the average consumer, the “eyeballs” at the other end of the internet from the servers. The first and last groups (service providers and eyeball networks) pay the middle group for access to the internet, and generally for more than one connection, to which more are added each time bandwidth needs require it.

Now as a service provider, when I start to get to ~80% of my connection capacity, I add additional links (fiber optic cables connecting my equipment to the interconnection network). The costs of these links are generally proportional to the amount of money I make off of the customers requesting this data (my customers). The ISPs like Comcast and Verizon are also paying these interconnection networks for access to the internet, likely at similar or even lower cost-per-connection rates compared to what I pay. In this way, we’re equals and everything is neutral. Now, lets say that I’ve been upgrading at that 80% capacity number on a regular schedule (this is what Netflix does) but my customer’s ISP has just been watching their upstream links hit 90%, 95%, 100%, and finally start losing packets. This is because your ISP thinks that by doing nothing, they’re not “throttling”, so they’re not breaking any rules. What’s happening here is that Verizon’s customers are requesting more data than Verizon wants to pay to be able to handle, so they want to charge Netflix and the other service providers to connect directly to them instead, thus bypassing the interconnection network.

The eyeball network is trying to get money at both ends of their pipe, once from their customers, and again from the companies their customers use. This extortion shakedown is only possible because you, as the customer, can’t see the state of Verizon’s external connections and they don’t think you’re smart enough to realize what they’re doing. Netflix is trying to inform you (though I’d have been more specific about the issue being Verizon’s interconnections, not its core network) and Verizon doesn’t like it at all. Fight back, contact your congressperson, tell them we need Net Neutrality. If you don’t, the monopoly currently providing you internet service will continue to do this until services like Netflix are impossible to run at a reasonable cost.