I started reading (yes another book) “Internet Architecture and Innovation” on my flight to Portland Tuesday night. It’s going to be a really interesting read, if you like the internet, economics and innovation of course. One of the first parts discusses the history of the internet and a design principle called end to end. This means that when something is transmitted certain events must happen. There are two meanings to the same principle though, which complicates things. In one version only peers can “talk” to each other and share the information. This isn’t exactly literal, because if I’m skyping the data isn’t just between skype on my pc and yours, it goes through many, but the idea is that only your pc and mine know we are skyping. In the second method, some intermediaries might know that we are skyping, through something called deep packet inspection where a router is able to read the information it processes. Both ways are still called end-to-end. Which is obviously a problem.
Another easy example. One version would require equal up and download speeds, the other doesn’t. Let’s say you have a picture and want to upload it, in the one version it would take you the same time to upload as to download it the next day back to your pc. We know this doesn’t happen.
Until reading this book I really thought that the internet was truly designed in an equal and neutral manner. However, this isn’t the case. Using these two design principles results in an internet that looks very different and we would expect it to evolve differently based on which understanding was applied.
It’s obvious that for consumers the first option is better. Where the network behind the internet is neutral and a “dumb” pipe. Why is it better? Because no one would be able to intercept your data or change the speeds you get your information or even cap your data downloads. This is bad for network owners because they can’t charge or filter as easily for specific content. They simply become a pipe that information flows through.
The differences in incentives and contexts which the design rules are applied drives this discussion. Since the participants believe they are talking about the same thing there is confusion over the disconnect. This leads to an obvious other problem, our clueless elected officials. They don’t understand how the internet works at the simplest level, let alone the esoterics of the minute differences in this argument. It is no wonder they have tried to do back door deals to get this topic to go away.
This also has led to confusion within the internet community of how the telcoms can say that the internet wasn’t developed as a neutral platform. In a way they are correct, in other ways they are wrong. It was just a matter of what was being discriminated. Before it was up vs down speeds, now it could be content. Which to them is no different. For us, it matters a whole lot more.