[governance] Net neutrality

Karl Auerbach karl at cavebear.com
Sat Aug 14 17:40:55 EDT 2010

On 08/14/2010 12:58 AM, parminder wrote:

> By the way, I am impressed the number of time the term 'public internet'
> is being used now.

Perhaps we ought to be somewhat careful about how that term is used.

Much, perhaps most, of the internet infrastructure is owned and operated 
by private actors, particularly if one considers mobile phone providers 
that carry IP packets as also being part of the internet.

I think that many of us look at the term "public internet" as a blanket 
phrase that covers the net as en entirety.

However, one can take an alternative view and look at the term "public 
internet" to describe only that portion of the net that is owned or 
operated by a public entity.

In that latter case the notion of net neutrality that is being espoused 
for the "public internet" would be net neutrality only on that small 
part that is owned or operated by some sort of public entity.  That 
would suggest that the remainder, the privately owned or operated parts, 
would be free to engage in traffic engineering.

And even in that narrow use of the words "public internet" there is 
danger - for example here in the USA the military and its supporting 
military-industrial complex operate several of the domain name system 
root servers.  It would be naive to believe that the US military would 
agree to subordinate US national security to the principles of network 
neutrality.  (I personally would not be surprised if the US were, in 
fact, using the rather unique observation capabilities of a root server 
to do some - what word should I use? - observation.  For more on that 
notion see http://www.cavebear.com/cbblog-archives/000232.html )

We are entering an er of increasing use of private interconnects between 
large content providers and content deliverers.  This is nothing new, 
but it is of increasing popularity.  And it is something that requires 
non-neutral treatment of packets even if that non-neutral treatment is 
differential routing onto a private interconnect based on shallow 
inspection of IP addresses or protocol.

Personally I am of the belief that the words "network neutrality" are 
essentially meaningless.  I look at the situation and accept the fact 
that non-equal treatment ("traffic engineering") is both reasonable and, 
in some cases (particularly for conversational or real-time control 
purposes), it is necessary.

(For example, look at the way that even small delays in the carriage of 
domain name system packets multiply into perceptions of sluggish 
application behaviour.  That suggests that some carriers may reasonably 
chose a non-neutral path in which they give DNS packets priority.)

So I look beyond the notion of pure network neutrality and ask the next 
question - in whose hands are vested the power to pull the levers and 
twist the dials of control of the non-neutral behaviour of the net?  To 
my mind that power should be vested in the users, and by explicit or 
implicit delegation to their applications and their contracted ISPs.


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