The Technical Case for Openness

The following section describes some of the technical workings of architecture of the Internet within the framework of the open Internet debate. In breaking down the basic anatomy of the network, we challenge typical arguments made by big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Bell, Telus, Rogers and Shaw around traffic growth and congestion, and debunk myths that have been created to justify Internet Traffic Management Practices (ITMPs) — any measure an ISP implements to intentionally mediate, or “manage,” the flow of data traffic along its network.

ITMPs can be either economic or technical mechanisms: the former is a pricing technique that both discourages users from accessing applications, and profits off Internet-user habits; the latter employs devices that alter the speed at which Internet users can access information and applications online. Some Internet applications, particularly peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing where Internet users share files directly with each other, are being unjustly targeted and discriminated against. This is particularly unjust when we consider the inherent benefits and efficiencies of P2P in creating a more seamless flow of network traffic and capacity. P2P has been labeled as a network hog and positioned as the culprit at the forefront of the congestion argument but, as we argue here, evidence shows that http applications, such as video and music streaming sites, produce more traffic.

We explain the nature of traffic congestion on properly provisioned networks and disprove P2P myths around traffic stream directions. We describe how poor throttling approaches such as ‘blanket throttling’ ignore the true nature of congestion and the fundamental way that the Internet functions.

Lastly, we discuss the ways that the practice of usage-based billling (UBB) as an economic ITMP is unjust; arguments by big ISPs about UBB are misleading and false. We examine Internet user growth rates and trends in Canada, reveal how monthly data caps are actually directed at all users, and illustrate how current UBB implementations unfairly tax off-peak users to subsidize peak usage. We demonstrate that UBB is not about addressing network congestion or paying per use for excessive users, but rather serves as another avenue for ISPs to increase revenues.

We aren’t facing a “bandwidth crisis” — we’re facing the problems produced by a dysfunctional market. In a functioning market place, demand must be met by an increase in supply, which involves a constant, revolving investment by business. It is the responsibility of ISPs to invest in their networks, rather than punishing users through price gouging; it is the responsibility of decision makers to enact policies that ensure users enjoy fair and affordable access as Internet technology continues to improve and permeate our social and business practices.

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