Kevin Bae

Non-Social in a Socially Networked World

My Re-Education on Net Neutrality


I’ve written a couple of blog posts regarding video over the Internet and Net Neutrality. The posts I wrote were based on what I was reading in the technology press and some main stream news sources. I was always skeptical to the idea of reclassifying Internet Service Providers (ISP) as common carriers mostly because of the intense push for the concept. It felt like a knee jerk reaction that might possibly cause more harm than good.

I started reading more into the Netflix-Comcast deal in which Netflix agreed to pay Comcast for so-called “priority access” to Comcast’s customers. As I dug deeper I found articles by Dan Rayburn on that clearly explained the Netflix-Comcast deal has nothing to do with Net Neutrality at all and has to do with what’s called peering.

Commercial interconnect relationships, also referred to as paid peering agreements, have been around since the Internet started, and it’s how the Internet works. Commercial interconnect deals haveNOTHING TO DO WITH NET NEUTRALITY. Implying otherwise shows a complete lack of regard in understanding how traffic is and has been exchanged across networks for the past twenty years. The media as a whole should stop trying to insinuate or imply that everything that happens between two networks comes down to Net Neutrality. It doesn’t.

Dan Rayburn

These peering arrangements between CDNs and ISPs or CDNs and other CDNs many times involve sharing. They agree to send and receive data across each other’s networks in a fair and equitable manner so no one network is sending an inordinate amount of data to any other network. If one network is sending way more data than they are receiving then the arrangement is lopsided and some type of payment may be necessary to balance the scales.

Content creators contract with CDN’s to help keep their costs down when serving content. For example, if I was trying to start a service out of my office to stream movies across the Internet and it was successful I could not afford the bandwidth or the servers necessary to accomplish that goal. A CDN would be necessary so the people using my service receive a quality stream.

Here’s an even better description of what CDN’s do via Ars Technica:

Video providers typically pay third-party CDNs to ensure that traffic is delivered along the most optimal route to each consumer and that heavily accessed content is cached for quick retrieval. CDNs themselves often pay ISPs for direct access to their networks. When Netflix built its own CDN, it tried to get free connections to ISP networks. While Netflix succeeded in some cases, it was forced to payboth Verizon and Comcast.

What wasn’t reported in most of the technology and main stream press is that Netflix was already paying other CDNs to manage and distribute their content. Then Netflix made a business decision to create their own CDN. Netflix’s CDN does not sell service to other content generators all it does is provide its traffic to other CDN’s or ISPs.

I’m sure there’s much here that I’m not precise about as the entire subject is highly technical and complicated. I think I’ve got the big picture though. Everything smells bad to me  with what’s happening with the FCC and the net neutrality debate. What concerns me the most is the clamoring from the technology press for the FCC to declare ISPs common carriers. The last thing anyone should want is government regulation of the Internet. Regulations create just as many barriers to entry as any other fact of doing business. If you have ever started a business or even tried you know how many certifications, licenses, and other processes and fees you have to pay before you hang your shingle above your door.

Asking the FCC to regulate ISPs as common carriers may lead to consequences we don’t want. The FCC keeps throwing around the term “legal content”. If the FCC is going to regulate “legal content” on the Internet this could lead to Internet licensing.  A person would need a license to post or distribute content online. Do we want this?

I keep scouring the Internet for someone to write a column on the negatives of the FCC declaring ISPs as common carriers. I haven’t found one yet. There has to be a danger here and I’d like to know what it is.

Here are links to Dan Rayburn’s posts that were eye opening and taught me a lot on how things actually work on the Internet.