A Tiered Internet – Penny Wise or Pound Foolish

With the debate over net neutrality raging in the background, Internet suppliers are preparing their strategies to bridge the divide between bandwidth consumption and costs. This topic is coming to a head now largely because of the astonishing growth-rate of streaming video from the likes of YouTube, NetFlix, and others.

The issue recently took a new turn and emerged front and center during a webinar when Allot Communications and Openet presented its new product features, including its approach of integrating policy control and charging for wireless access to certain websites.

On the surface, this may seem like a potential solution to the bandwidth problem. Basic economic theory will tell you that if you increase the cost of a product or service, the demand will eventually decrease. In this case, charging for bandwidth will not only increase revenues, but the demand will ultimately drop until a point of equilibrium is reached. Problem solved, right? Wrong!

While the short-term benefits are obviously appealing for some, this is a slippery slope that will lead to further inequality in Internet access (You can easily find many articles and blogs regarding Net Neutrality including those referencing Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee — two of the founding fathers of the Internet — clearly supporting a free and equal Internet). Despite these arguments, we believe that Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) equipment makers such as Allot will continue to promote and support a charge system since it is in their best business interests to do so. After all, a pay-for-access approach requires DPI as the basis for determining what content to charge.

However, there are better and more cost-effective ways to control bandwidth consumption while protecting the interests of net neutrality. For example, fairness-based bandwidth control intrinsically provides equality and fairness to all users without targeting specific content or websites. With this approach, when the network is busy small bandwidth consumers are guaranteed access to the Internet while large bandwidth users are throttled back but not charged or blocked completely. Everyone lives within their means and gets an equal share. If large bandwidth consumers want access to more bandwidth, they can purchase a higher level of service from their provider. But let’s be clear, this is very different from charging for access to a particular website!

Although this content-neutral approach has repeatedly proved successful for NetEqualizer users, we’re now taking an additional step at mitigating bandwidth congestion while respecting network neutrality through video caching (the largest growth segment of bandwidth consumption). So, keep an eye out for the YouTube caching feature to be available in our new NetEqualizer release early next year.

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