Net Neutrality: The Technical Side of the Debate: A White Paper

Jon Crowcroft
Appears in: 
CCR January 2007

Network Neutrality is the subject of much current debate. In this white paper I try to finnd the signal in the noise by taking a largely technical look at various definitions of network neutrality and the feasibility and complexity of implementing systems that support those ideas.

First off, there are a lot of emotional terms used to describe various aspects of what makes the melting pot of the

neutrality debate. For example, censorship or black-holing (where route filtering, fire-walling and port blocking might say what is happening in less insightful way); free-riding is often bandied about to describe the business of making money on the net (rather than overlay service provision); monopolistic tendencies, instead of the natural inclinationof an organisation that owns a lot of kit that they've sunk capital into, to want to make revenue from it!

The paper describes the basic realities of the net, which has never been a level playing field for many accidental and some deliberate reasons, and then looks at the future evolution of IP (and lower level) services; the evolution of overlay services, and the evolution of the structure of the ISP business space (access, core and other); finally, I appeal to simple minded economic and regulatory arguments to ask whether there is any case at all for special pleading for the Internet as a special case, different from other services, or utilities.