You may have noticed that I've been writing regularly on Net neutrality and the impending balkanization of the Internet. I had originally intended to depart from that topic this week, but then I noticed the comments made by Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam last week (read the full transcript).
He offers many highly concerning statements, but the one that leaps out first is that McAdam apparently believes that proponents of a neutral Internet do not know how ISPs manage their networks.
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"The carriers make money by transporting a lot of data," McAdam said. "And spending a lot of time manipulating this, that accusation is by people that don't really know how you manage a network like this. You don't want to get into that sort of gameplaying."
Actually, I think the opposite is true -- a large number of proponents of a neutral Internet are Internet architects and network engineers themselves. These are people like myself, who have built multiple ISPs and large enterprise networks, and who know exactly how these networks are managed. We know exactly what can be done, and how it can be done, and we know that "gameplaying" is exactly what the big ISPs are after. They are looking to get paid on both ends of the data delivery chain, and they will play all the games they can to ensure that reality comes to pass.
McAdam then moves to a rather odious comparison of the Internet to health care:
You want to make sure that if somebody is going to have a heart attack, that gets to the head of the line, ahead of a grade schooler that is coming home to do their homework in the afternoon or watch TV. So I think that is coming to realization.
This is an obviously tortured overdramatization, comparing Internet access to someone's impending death, yet somehow also involving a sweet, innocent schoolchild. I think what he's trying to say here is that Verizon wants to give important traffic priority over other traffic. This is the very heart of the matter -- that we restructure the Internet into tiers of speed, priority, and ultimately raw access.
On the face of it, this may not seem like a problem. After all, we do want someone who is having a heart attack to go to the head of the line. But there's a very important difference here: What if the poor fellow having the heart attack hasn't paid -- or hasn't paid enough to go to the head of the line? That is the revenue source that the big ISPs are looking for. That's the extortion plan.
It's absurd to think that any form of packet prioritization will save a life in the same way that emergency room triage works. That said, there are definitely ways that computer networks can be instrumental in saving lives, and the prioritization of data can play a large role in that. Take, for instance, surgeons operating remotely. Through the use of high-speed computer networks, a surgeon can operate on a patient who is many miles away. This is a perfect example of why QoS exists.
We certainly wouldn't want someone playing World of Warcraft to cause high latency and disrupt the procedure. But that is not -- and has never been -- an issue: Telesurgery data passes through dedicated circuits; it does not commingle with Internet traffic. It would be unconscionable to do it any other way.
But this is what the ISPs want people to think -- that they will be saving lives via such wholly altruistic endeavor.