Although the debates surrounding net neutrality and user privacy are nothing new, the recent involvement of the Federal Communications Commission is forcing ISPs and network administrators to rethink their strategies for network optimization. The potential benefits of layer-7 bandwidth shaping and deep packet inspection are coming into conflict with the rights of Internet users to surf the net unimpeded while maintaining their privacy.
Despite the obvious potential relationship between net neutrality, deep packet inspection and bandwidth shaping, the issues are not inherently intertwined and must be judged separately. This has been the outlook at APconnections since the development of the network optimization appliance NetEqualizer five years ago.
On the surface, net neutrality seems to be a reasonable and ultimately beneficial goal for the Internet. In a perfect world, all consumers would be able to use the Internet to the extent they saw fit, absent of any bandwidth regulation. However, that perfect world does not exist.
In many cases, net neutrality can become a threat to equal access. Whether this is true for larger ISPs is debatable, however it cannot be denied when considering the circumstances surrounding smaller Internet providers. For example, administrators at rural ISPs, libraries, universities, and businesses often have no choice but to implement bandwidth shaping in order to ensure both reliable service and their own survival. When budgets allow only a certain amount of bandwidth to be purchased, once that supply is depleted, oftentimes due to the heavy usage of a small number of users, options are limited. Shaping in no longer a choice, but a necessity.
However, this does not mean that a free pass should be given for Internet providers to accomplish network optimization through any means available even at the expense of customer privacy. This is especially true considering that it’s possible to achieve network optimization without compromising privacy or equal access to the Internet. The NetEqualizer is a proven example.
Rather than relying on techniques such as deep packet inspection, NetEqualizer regulates bandwidth usage by connection limits and, through its fairness algorithm, ensures that all users are given equal access when the network is congested (Click here for a more detailed explanation of the NetEqualizer technology).
Therefore, a heavy bandwidth user that might be slowing Internet access for other customers can be kept in check without having to actually examine or completely block the data that is being sent. The end result is that the large majority of users will be able to access the Internet unhindered, while the privacy of all users is protected.
In the midst of the ongoing debates over net neutrality and privacy, the NetEqualizer approach is gaining popularity. This is apparent in both an increase in sales as well as on message boards and forums across the Internet. A recent Broadband Reports post reads:
“I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with you if you’re simply prioritizing real time traffic over non-real time. Just so long as you’re agnostic as to who’s sending the traffic, not making deals behind people’s backs, etc. then I’d have no problem with my ISP letting me surf the web or e-mail or stream at full speed, even if it meant that, when another person was doing the same, I could only get 100 KBs on a torrent instead of 150.
“I’d much rather have a NetEq’d open connection than a NATed nonmanaged one, that’s for sure.”
It is this agnostic approach that differentiates NetEqualizer from other network optimization appliances. While network administrators are able to prioritize applications such as VoIP in order to prevent latency, other activity, such as BitTorrent, is still able to take place – just at a slower speed when the network is congested. This is all done without deep packet inspection.
“NetEqualizer never opens up any customer data and thus cannot be accused of spying. Connections are treated as a metered resource,” said Art Reisman, CEO of APconnections. “The ISPs that use NetEqualizer simply put a policy in their service contracts stating how many connections they support, end of story. BitTorrent is still allowed to run, albeit not as wide with unlimited connections.”
Although not a proponent of bandwidth shaping, TorrentFreak.com editor-in-chief and founder Ernesto differentiates NetEqualizer from other bandwidth shaping appliances.
“I am not a fan of bandwidth control, the correct solution is for providers to build out more capacity by reinvesting their profits, however I’ll concede a solution such as a NetEqualizer is much more palatable than redirecting or specially blocking bittorrent and also seems to be more acceptable to consumers than bandwidth caps or metered plans.
“There is a risk though, who decides what the ‘peaks times’ are, how much bandwidth / connections would that be? Let me reiterate, I would rather see that ISPs invest in network capacity than network managing hardware.
“The Internet is growing rapidly, and if networks ‘crash’ already, they are clearly doing something wrong.”
The ultimate capacity of individual networks will vary on a case-by-case basis, with some having little choice but to employ bandwidth shaping and others doing so for reasons other than necessity. It has never been the intention of APconnections to pass judgment on how or why users implement shaping technology. The NetEqualizer is simply providing a bandwidth optimization alternative to deep packet inspection that gives administrators the opportunity to manage their networks with respect to both net neutrality and customer privacy.