• Sales: 
    020 7501 3333
  • |
  • Partners: 
    020 7501 3150
  • |
  • Support: 
    020 7501 3030
  • |
  • Support: 
    0800 319 6262
Home > NET Neutrality?

NET Neutrality?

Graham Lewis, our Director IP Engineering, discusses the thorny issue of Net Neutrality following the Comcast controversy in the USA.


Network neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers should treat all data content the same. Over Spitfire’s network we don’t handle packets going to and from any other network on the Internet any differently. We don’t discriminate whether customers are watching a pop video on YouTube or receiving an email with a sales invoice from a supplier in China.


As the demand for high speed data services like video increases ISP’s (and also mobile networks)
have to constantly increase network capacity by adding more powerful routers and switches whilst
increasing fibre capacity to other networks. Doing that is expensive so the thought arises that
customers should pay more to access services that use more data or that the companies that
provide the data should pay to have their data travel over an ISP’s network.


From an ISP’s point of view the companies that provide content on the Internet like Facebook,
Netflix and YouTube are getting a free ride over their networks. The content providers argue that
their services drive demand for access services. For an ISP to recoup some of their costs they could
either charge customers more to access certain services or charge the company that provides them
and in return offer to give priority over their network for services that are being paid for.


Free market proponents, who you might think were in favour of letting service providers charge how
they please, fear that content providers with the deepest pockets could effectively block new
entrants to the market place and damage competition.


Those who support net neutrality argue that the internet was founded on the principle of end to end
connectivity and that everyone’s packets should be treated equally. Others point out that the IP
protocols themselves have been written to allow differentiation of service – what is called Quality of
Service (QoS) that accepts that not all packets should be treated equally.


The debate is being fought out legally in the United States as to whether the law should mandate
that ISPs cannot treat traffic differently regardless of the source, the content or the application.


The current round of legislative debate was prompted when the US ISP Comcast started to try and
control peer to peer file sharing by reducing the available bandwidth across their network to that
application. This is known as traffic management or traffic shaping and is designed to stop certain
types of traffic swamping the network. Indeed P2P applications are designed to transfer as much
data as rapidly as possible and are not designed like more “well behaved” applications so ISPs argue
that some traffic management is necessary to re-adjust the balance and allow everyone a fair


A report by the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) found that the
practice of blocking or throttling P2P traffic is widespread amongst European fixed and mobile
operators and that the blocking of Voice over IP (VOIP) is common on mobile networks.


Back in the US the FCC adjudicated that Comcast was wrong and ordered them to pay damages. At
the time of writing the US appeals court has ruled that the FCC had no jurisdiction on this matter and
has overturned the decision. Now politicians are drafting laws to try and enforce net neutrality and
business and consumer interests on all sides are lining up to have their say.


There is no legislation planned in the UK, though there is an EU directive that ISPs that use traffic
shaping and traffic management should tell customers that they are doing it. At this time the EU is
effectively saying that they cannot police what an ISP does but that whatever they do they should
tell the customer that they are doing it.


The EU Telecommunications Council concluded that whilst it regards net neutrality as a policy
objective at the same time it recognises the need to safeguard ISPs business models. In other words
it is staying neutral on the problem of net neutrality.


There is new proposed EU regulation that says that ISPs cannot throttle or block internet content,
however they can offer services with “assured quality” so long as this does not interfere with
internet speeds promised to other customers. It also suggests that service and content providers
should be free to enter into agreements with each other to offer specialised services with defined
quality of service and guaranteed capacity. This gives rise to the concern of a “two tier internet”
where customers willing to pay more for privileged access to some services can do so or use the bog
standard internet with no dedicated capacity.


What all this means for a customer is that they need to ask as to what traffic management is in place
and discuss how that affects them. For a business it may well be that they actually prefer that it is
connected to an ISP where their business traffic is considered more important than home users
streaming a movie. When they go home at night they may have a different opinion.
Harold Lasswell the US political scientist said that “Politics is who gets what, when and how”. The
Internet has now clearly entered the world of politics.


Download this article

    Enquire now about your chosen product

    Please complete your details below and we will contact you shortly to confirm availability and pricing.

    To view our Privacy Policy please click here.

    Thank you for your enquiry, one of the team will be in touch shortly.

    Spitfire uses cookies to improve your experience whilst you’re visiting our website and to make sure that any advertising is relevant to you. By continuing to use our site you are consenting to our use of cookies. Find out more about cookies including how to opt out here.