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Deadline On FCC Net Neutrality Rules Closes Soon; Go Comment Now

The comment deadline to weigh in on the FCC's proposed rules on Network Neutrality is coming to a close on January 14th, 2010. Pro or con, if you care about network neutrality, you only have a few days left to file a comment with the FCC. For a refresher on the proposed rules, can read them here.

Admittedly, I am a proponent of the proposed rules. I think the rules, once they are in place, will go along way to ensure that consumers and businesses who rely on the Internet continue to enjoy fair and unfettered access to the servers and services we desire. For whatever reason, this particular issue is emotionally explosive, and frankly, some the arguments against the rules are just plain wrong.  

Is the FCC trying to regulate free speech? Yes. They are trying to create regulations that ensure that everyone, private person and business alike, has the ability to post opinions and expressions across the Internet without service providers hindering access -- and regardless of whether those opinions and expressions are in text, voice, video, or some other media. Isn't that what you want? Do you want a network service provider to interfere with or stop what you can do on the Internet?

The FCC's proposed ruling does not allow unlawful actions including terrorism, copyright infringement and other illegal activities to occur. It also does not stop service providers from employing reasonable network management practices to ensure fair and equitable quality of service to everyone.

The term "reasonable network management" has changed and will continue to change over time. The practices available today are different from the ones available 10 or 20 years ago. The key word is "reasonable." Network engineers know how protocols behave on the network.

  • Real-time media like Voice over IP (Vonage, Skype, etc) , streaming video, even instant messaging, don't require a lot of bandwidth, but they do require fast and consistent connections. Without fast and consistent connections, real-time media degrades to the point of being useless.
  • Bulk traffic like email and file transfers often consume a lot of bandwidth but aren't as time sensitive as real-time traffic. Does it matter if your e-mail from Aunt Jean arrives two milliseconds later? Does it matter of your file download takes a bit longer? Probably not.
  • Other traffic, such as general web surfing falls somewhere in the middle. I know usability studies have indicated that delays of even half a second can impact sales, but for the most part, delays in web surfing are just a fact of life.

The Internet is plenty fast enough, the choke point is often the "last mile" or the part of the network between where your service provider gets traffic onto its own backbone and your computer. Cable broadband users have suffered from the after-school effect where broadband connections slow down when the kids get home. I don't know what the traffic mix is, but reasonable network management practices would indicate shaping traffic to give preference to real-time media and slowing down bulk file transfers to give more space to other traffic.  

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