'

Nothing neutral about new Net wars

The US has voted against compulsory net neutrality. If governments won't tell carriers where to get off, we'll have to do it ourselves

Net neutrality is a simple concept — a carrier should deal with every packet equally, regardless of source or destination. This is unfair, say the carriers, because some content providers use up far more bandwidth than others. Why should they get a free ride? Better to bill Google for guaranteed service, otherwise... well, wouldn't like to say what might happen. Couldn't build any new networks, and as for the old ones — terrible things happen on old networks.

And so the carriers would create their dream world, one where they count up the packets they carry each month and send in a bill. Favoured clients would get a discount, of course, especially the services the carriers ran themselves. In time, people would learn to connect directly and the Internet would turn into a set of independent fiefdoms, with customers tied to high prices and limited services.

If that sounds familiar, that's because it's the way it used to be, before the Internet, when telcos were kings. It's hard to imagine how such outmoded ideas could be sensibly coupled to a network designed to run with minimal overhead, nor why it would be any fairer than today's schemes where you pay more for a faster connection from your ISP and let the ISPs sort out the interconnectivity.

The telcos move on swiftly from fairness to necessity, saying that bandwidth is expensive, a scarce resource that needs maximum exploitation in order to guarantee innovation. Not so, says the vice-president of Internet2, an organisation building an extremely fast academic and research network. For years, we tried to implement a network with prioritised traffic. Then we found that just having lots of bandwidth was the most efficient and cheapest way to give everyone what they want. Then you get lots and lots of innovation.

Fast, simple and open: no surprise to anyone, as these are the same insights that got the Internet going in the first place. They are also three words that spell death to the old way of thinking. No wonder the carriers want to cripple the Net on all three fronts, not because it doesn't work and isn't fair but because it works better and more fairly than anything they could come up with.

Laws to enforce net neutrality will only be necessary if the market fails. It's more satisfying and effective to do as Google has done, and tell these bandits to go to hell.