The Network Neutrality Ruling and Network Admin: Are You Worried?

The U.S. Court of Appeals this week struck down the FCC Network Neutrality order. What does this mean for the Internet as we know it?

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Jan 15, 2014
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A tectonic shift in the Internet landscape is now on the horizon with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision that effectively strikes down network neutrality.

Verizon lodged an appeal against the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to eliminate the network neutrality order, formally known as the "Open Internet Order" (25 F.C.C.R. 17905 (2010).

Network Neutrality, as defined by Verizon in its complaint, "imposes disclosure, anti-blocking and anti-discrimination requirements on broadband providers."

The basic idea is that the network should be a fair and level playing field for everyone that uses the network.

As a networking guy, I know full well that that's not how a proper enterprise network should ever be configured. We have Quality of Service (QoS) tools that monitor performance and network activity, because the reality is that the traffic that goes over any network isn't homogenous.

Different types of traffic can, and should, be handled differently on an enterprise network. Traffic or bandwidth shaping configuration is a standard option on many enterprise networks, enabling network administrators to meet QoS levels. A standard best practice on many networks is to assign a higher priority to latency-sensitive applications than to others. For example, VoIP is latency-sensitive, so most networking admins will prioritize voice traffic over, say, Facebook traffic.

As a matter of course, enterprise network admins can and do block access to certain sites that are not appropriate for business use.

Simply put, most of us work inside organizations whose networks are not neutral.

The U.S. Court Ruling is not about enterprise networks, however, and Verizon isn't arguing about imposing neutrality on enterprises, either. This is about broadband service providers being able to throttle traffic and control their own networks. From a QoS perspective, this makes perfectly good sense to me, as it aligns with typical best practices for an enterprise network.

The problem again, though, is that broadband providers have a different audience. The goal of network neutrality was to enshrine the rights of what are known as "over-the-top" content providers. For example, Netflix takes up a lot of bandwidth but is able to deliver its streaming video service thanks in part to the fact that broadband providers don't throttle or block Netflix traffic.

If the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling stands, could a broadband provider start to block or impose restrictions on Netflix? Could the broadband provider choose to block access to competitor sites?

These are real questions and real concerns that we should all be worried about. A world without broadband network neutrality is a world that would quickly devolve from the open Internet that we all know and love, to a set of siloed networks.

Yes, I understand full well that Verizon and other broadband service providers also need to have the highest Quality of Service levels, and I think that's something the original FCC order understood too. Yet without the protections that the FCC order afforded, protections ensuring that content providers and Internet users get access to the content they want without being slowed down or blocked, the Internet as we know it today simply would not exist.

A broadband service provider network isn't the same as an enterprise network. Let's hope the courts and lawmakers one day soon understand that reality.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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