Internet Service Providers have been around for 30 years now, except in the beginning the ISPs were the same companies who invented the internet running under government regulation. The following decade saw many companies specializing in internet services and technologies taking over that market. However, in 1996 the Telecommunications act the country deregulated the ISPs allowing providers to be bought off by the highest bidder. Now they are the same companies who were once hated as cable providers (hated as in lowest customer satisfaction ratings) running the customer satisfaction ratings into the toilet. But does that mean that the new internet providers are capable of throttling services, just to make a quick dollar on service deals?
This question has been open to debate for several months. Every company with an internet background seems to have a strong opinion one way or the other, while citizens either have no real opinion, or align with their preferred company. The problem with this, is that most people do not really have access to the proper information to have an opinion.
Basically, the average understanding of the internet is only skin deep. What that means is that the users only see what happens after the ISPs receive the content, between the ISPs and residential homes. There is a whole other side to that debate the average user does not see, namely, how the ISPs get the content. This is what the FCC will be investigating due to the war of words currently being publicized between Verizon and Netflix.
The part of the debate that is unseen to the average user is how content gets from content providers (Yahoo! Google, Youtube, Netflix) to ISPs. This sub-skin part of the internet, is what is referred to as the “internet’s backbone.” The backbone is made up of several hyper speed fiber optic connections, bundled together between network hubs. At the network hubs data either continues its journey to a farther destination, or is transferred to internet service providers for the last mile. The two main companies regulating this space are Level 3 connections and Cogent Connections. Cogent has a bit of a questionable past in regards to customer service. Of the 6 major interconnection disputes of the past 12 years, 5 of them have involved Cogent, and they all involved customers to be affected in one way or another. While Level 3 has only been involved in 2 disputes. One which had no discernible effect on any of its customers, and the other involved Cogent, this dispute left users that required interconnection out of service for 3 days.
A preliminary report on the backbone conducted by an Internet Scientist at MIT, Mike Clark, revealed that there are a few tell tale indicators of widespread congestion. He said that the congestion stems from interconnection points between the companies. The Senior Researcher at MIT also mentioned that this could very well be due to existing or pending business relations. The interconnection points mentioned above, are ones between the backbone and ISPs. In that vein, Netflix is claiming that the internet service providers are, “deliberately and systematically” neglecting to conduct regular upkeep of those interconnection points, in order to throttle the connection and gain an upper hand in business negotiations. Which is not too far-fetched, since in that same report conducted by MIT, Clark said that Netflix is experiencing congestion 18-hours a day on average until the direct connection deal with Comcast was finalized and new interconnections were installed.
Cable companies on the other hand hired a company called CableLabs, to personally go through MIT’s findings. CableLabs are claiming that Netflix is purposely using the “on ramps” to ISPs with congestion in order to shift the blame over to the ISPs. In an annual report conducted by the FCC, Measuring Broadband America, revealed that most ISPs deliver 90 to 100 percent of the speeds they claim to. However, the one exception has been the video giant Netflix.
The Netflix-Verizon spat brought the idea of net neutrality squarely into the public eye, but the issue has always been pivotal. Net neutrality can change the face of the internet forever, which can literally change the course of human history. If net neutrality is abandoned, all the start-ups revolutionizing various aspects of daily life, will not have the same opportunity to break out and shine in the public eye, thanks to the equalizing power of the internet. The idea of net neutrality is only being upheld on the surface, the backbone has a free pass to charge ISPs and content providers whatever they deem is fair to interconnect. What is worse is that up until a few months ago, throttling was completely legal, so it is quite possible the internet service providers were indeed slowing connections to retaliate for the backbones prices.
By Eddie Mejia