22 March 2007

US and NATO Declare War on Net Neutrality

Here's a very stupid idea in the making:

Representatives of the US government have demanded that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) come up with a solution for prioritizing certain data within government networks and at the interfaces to other networks. Representatives of the US Department of Defense and of the National Communications System (NCS), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, are seeking to ensure that certain items of information can even in an emergency be guaranteed to arrive. This presupposes appropriate identification mechanisms in the servers. At the IETF meeting in Prague Antonio Desimone of the US Department of Defense said that the switch to a "global grid" raised a number of issues, such as how delivery of a specific e-mail could be ensured within a defined period of time. What was needed was a prioritizing of data, one that also took in emergency and catastrophe scenarios.

"Some calls are more important than other calls, some chats more important than others or a certain content within a chat session may have priority," Mr. Desimone explained.

Why's it stupid? Well, it essentially kills net neutrality, and at the behest of the soldiers. If they want their own super-duper networks, let them build it, rather than attempt to steal the toys everyone else is sharing. And another reason this is asking for trouble is the following:

He said he was especially worried that prioritization might in reality not be confined to authorized persons. Should confinement fail script kids and hackers might find ways to use "priority bits" for their purposes, he observed.

"Might find ways"? Might???


Anonymous said...

The internet was designed to be robust and neutral. If it works as designed, then it will deliver important messages, along with all sorts of other junk. It won't waste resources making decisions better made at the ends. It will just do its robust and neutral job.

Glyn Moody said...

Good point: if they're worried, they could spend some of their defence dosh on upgrading the wiring....

Anonymous said...

This is why net neutrality is bad. You have to admit there is certain data that is more important than others. Medical data is more important than your everyday web browsing. Net neutrality will slow the web browsing function because it forces all data to be treated equally.

I am working with the hands off the internet coalition and what people don't realize is that somebody wants to make the necessary upgrades to the internet's backbone but nobody wants to help pay for it.

Glyn Moody said...

Some data is certainly more important than others - the problem is defining which. Because people will never agree, the best solution is not to prioritise certain classes, but to improve the speeds for all.

As for upgrading the Internet's backbone, I already pay for it in the form of the fees to my Internet supplier. Built in to that (if it's a forward-looking business) are costs of upgrading pipes; that, in its turn, goes to pay for new ones.

Net neutrality is necessary to preserve a level playing field for innovative new uses. The instant net neutrality is lost there will be entrenched forces fighting newcomers with new ideas.

This is essentially the battle going on with Microsoft in areas like office formats: we don't have "office format neutrality", which will only come when we have a single, genuinely open standard like ODF, controlled by no one vendor.