Recently, La Quadrature du Net (“Squaring the Net”) published an article about saving Net Neutrality. While it is important to product Internet to avoid a network operator from limiting access to some parts of Internet, it should be noted that Internet is not neutral, and has never been.
Since people normally don’t know how internet works, I’ll explain a bit how it works before explaining why it is not neutral.
Internet is a web, you’ve probably read that somewhere. Operators in the world connect to each other to be able to transmit traffic. This kind of connection is called “peering”. Some operators connect to each other for free, but some do not.
Let’s say we have a big national operator A, with dozen of peerings and lots of traffic. Operator B is a “tier 1″ operator, selling bandwidth to operator A. Operator C is a small local operator, connected to operator B. Now, as both operators A and C are in the same country, they will tend to have lots of traffic between each other, especially if operator A also host services as it is often the case. Now, when our operator C asks operator A a peering, there are many cases we usually see:
- Most common case: operator A agrees to the peering, but operator C has to pay for all traffic in or out of this peering. Operator A doesn’t care because it doesn’t really need this peering, the volume of data to operator C being rather small compared to international or other operators.
- One case I saw in France: operator A has peering conditions that states minimum used bandwidth/etc. Operator A replies to operator C that with the current traffic, it can’t agree to a peering. Same here, while cost might be trivial for operator A, it might be quite a lot for operator C
- Finally the rarest case: operator A has peering policies to agree to “anyone who want to peer”. Operator C will most likely have to pay installation of a connection to one of operator A’s PoP (point of presence), but won’t need to pay each month for used bandwidth (which doesn’t cost anything except hardware to operator A).
Now, those “peering policies” might be a bit more than just volume requirements. A big national operator may refuse a peering to a smaller operator to keep the small operator’s costs high. While in theory most operators have advantage to peer to each other, biggest operators makes it almost impossible for smaller operators to reduce their costs, even when peering would cost less for the big operator (I can understand that sometimes the traffic generated by an operator doesn’t cover the costs of installing a line and providing a port on a router, but peering refusal is often based on other non-technical basis.
Neutrality would mean that time and transmission conditions from a point A to a point B is not affected by any non-technical constraint (as far as I’m concerned, if establishing a peering is more expensive than staying on the current tansmission mode, refusing a peering is fine). Currently, reasons for not accepting a peering at different operators varies from “because you are a concurrent” to “we are too lazy to connect you”.