Archive for July, 2014

Net Neutrality: bottlenecks and buffering

July 1, 2014


“Net neutrality regulations could have the power to stifle or preserve technological innovation and freedom of speech, as well as influence how quickly you get emails, whether your Netflix streams buffer, and how much you pay for Internet connection and services that exist there.” – CNET

Recently, comedian John Oliver crashed the FCC’s website following his 13 minute rant urging viewers to stand up against upcoming changes to net neutrality regulations in the US.

It’s impressive that so many people felt enthused enough about the subject to actually log on and express their opinion – enough people to render the online comment system useless for a few hours – but what’s worrying is that it’s taken so long for awareness to grow as to what an internet “fast lane” would actually mean for the consumer.

Until now, there hasn’t really been a a real explanation of what net neutrality is, or the consequences it can have. You could either try to wrap your brain around the technical jargon spouted out by the internet giants, or you could read into the melodramatic newspaper headlines that warn of your internet speeds dropping to a snail’s pace.

Neither gives a true depiction of the situation, I suspect.

What is “paid priority”?

Paid priority allows providers to avoid congestion by paying a premium to send their data through an internet “fast lane” as opposed to over the regular internet. So when you’re trying to watch an episode of Breaking Bad after work, instead of it buffering relentlessly, Netflix can override the traffic to deliver your data as a priority, so that your viewing quality is not disrupted.

Does this mean if I don’t pay for priority my regular internet speeds will suffer?

This is the big question. The FCC assures us that the changes would see no difference to regular internet speeds but will merely be the introduction of a higher tier of internet that will sit above it. They also say that this additional tier would only ever be used in times of congestion.

In reality though, when you’re giving certain providers priority on a network, the others are bound to suffer. That’s why we have congestion in the first place – the network just isn’t wide enough to give everyone equal speeds. So when someone is prepared to pay more for preferential treatment, the quality of service provided by regular companies is going to be affected.

So how will it affect me?

Well, if you’re prepared to pay the premium you can expect superfast streaming, instant load times and a strong connection even during peak hours.

If you can’t afford to upgrade, you may have to brace yourself for a future of internet bottlenecks and a lot of buffering.

It’s worth pointing out though, that these changes are only applicable to the US. The European Parliament has in fact taken a wholly opposite view on the matter by voting in favour of net neutrality. The law still needs to be officially passed, but a spokesperson for the European Commission was confident that if the proposal “cleared its remaining hurdles”, the law could be in place by the end of 2014.

Author: Cassie Holmes, BuddyBackup