What does loss of net neutrality mean for volunteer computing? Quite possibly the end.
In the early days of the “public access” Internet, both organizations and end users paid Internet service providers (ISPs) for access to the Internet, the entire Internet. Those ISPs, in turn, paid for access to the Internet backbones, or made “peering agreements” with backbone access providers. Those peering agreements essentially said “If you carry my traffic without prejudice, I’ll carry yours.” It worked pretty well. To some extent it was self policing. If one provider violated peering agreements, their peers would disconnect them until they saw the error of their ways.
Those days are over, replaced by the days of the monopoly broadband providers. Most people in the United States only have access to one broadband provider. And the large broadband providers each cover a large fraction of the market. Comcast has been declaring for years that they would like to charge companies for access to their customers. In October of last year, Comcast and Verizon began throttling traffic from Netflix to their customers by 50% or more. These customers had paid Comcast and Verizon for access to the entire Internet, including Netflix.
In the old Internet, this would have been a violation of any peering agreements that Comcast and Verizon were a party to, and both would have disappeared from the net for a while. In the new world, they were successful in extorting money out of Netflix. Why? Because the customers of the ISPs that peer with Comcast and Verizon didn’t want to lose access to Comcast and Verizon customers. Comcast and Verizon have a license to do what they want now. Comcast and Verizon customers were furious. But most don’t have another choice except dial-up.
The existence of volunteer computing is predecated on a open Internet where ISPs cannot extort money out of other organizations for access to their users. In a neutral Internet, users decide what content they want, not the ISP. Apparently nobody remembers what it was like in the pre-Internet days of Compuserve and the Source and AOL. Charge by the page for things that are now free. Charge by the minute for access at all. $25 for a copy of an SEC filing for a company.
Will ISPs be approaching us demanding payment? I don’t know. We don’t have any money to give them.
What can be done? The easiest route would be for the FCC to declare that Internet service providers are common carriers that cannot discriminate based on content, sender, or recipient. That doesn’t mean they can’t have tiered plans and can’t change their rates. This change will not stifle innovation (apart from preventing innovative means of extortion) as we’ve had net neutrality until now. Will it happen? The FCC chair was the head of the National Cable Television Association and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, and so he sides with the large ISPs.
But you can comment on the FCC’s proposal to allow ISPs to charge people who aren’t their customers for “Fast Lane” access (which really means everyone else gets the really slow lane). Go to http://fcc.gov/comments and comment on FCC Dockets 14-28 and 10-127. Comments are accepted until July 15th.
I suggest a comment like the following:
The proposal to abandon Net Neutrality on the internet in favor of a multi-tiered content-biased system is deeply flawed. It would:
- create a system that inhibits technical innovation by allowing ISPs to choose which technologies their customers can access.
- create a system that protects entrenched companies while penalizing the start-ups that have been the life blood of the internet.
- limit access of non-profit organizations that cannot afford “fast-lane” fees.
- penalize media companies that do not directly own cable or satellite access to consumers.
The Internet has flourished under the de facto common carrier ISPs held until recently. It is time for the FCC to declare that ISPs are Common Carriers and hold them to that status.
Edit: The FCC web site no longer shows a link to the comments page. It is here