Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Net Neutrality" in the Netherlands

Network neutrality is a complicated issue, despite occasional efforts to paint it as a simple matter of content freedom. The Netherlands, for example, recently has decided to ensure that over the top applications such as Skype are usable on fixed and wireless networks.

That is heralded as a network neutrality move. In the U.S. market, such rules already are part of the Federal Communications Commission "Internet Freedoms" principles, which state, among other things, that users should be able to use all lawful applications."

The Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation decision seems aimed at services such as Skype, which the rules specify are allowed to work without interference from access providers.

Of course, that is not the heart of debates over network neutrality, which really becomes an issue because network management practices and application management sometimes overlap. Strong versions of network neutrality, which would prohibit any traffic shaping at all, even at the request of the end user, would complicate delivery of quality of service for any real-time service.

Users might not care so much about quality issues with "free" video clips, but they might not be happy paying for a video service that freezes frequently because there is congestion on the network. Nor are users likely to be any happier paying for video conference or calling services that suffer from impairments.

Some argue that bandwidth fixes all these problems, but that isn't true. Given enough bandwidth and a reasonable buffer, any pre-recorded form of video will work fine, almost always.

Real-time services, on the other hand, suffer from latency impairments because there is no way to buffer the bits. In such cases, quality of experience measures, such as delaying other types of less-important traffic, will improve end user experience. But strict forms of network neutrality might forbid even that practice.

1 comment:

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