One of the terms you may have heard of recently is that of ‘net neutrality’. So what does it mean?

One of greatest consumers of bandwidth is streaming video from places like Nextflix and YouTube. This can place significant bandwidth consumption loads on all the links between the source and the customer viewing the video, as the route from the video provider to the end user travels across many links.

Such consumption can mean that other customers using these broadband links for other tasks are affected, giving them a poor opinion of the link provider even though this impact is totally out of the control of the provider because traffic is simply traversing their network.

With this impact in mind, and the growing use of video streaming, some providers are looking at charging a fee for certain traffic traversing their network. This could mean that a major backbone provider could levy a fee of so much per MB of video data that enters and leaves their network.

If a levy was charged who should pay it? Should it be the end user or the provider? The easiest solution is simply to charge the provider of the video data as they know who their customers are, so it is a single point of contact. Trying to charge end users would be an administrative nightmare for all the different providers out there.

Now, what happens if you extend this concept of a levy based on traffic type to all traffic coming from certain locations or providers? What would happen if certain providers chose to charge a levy for traffic coming from Yahoo or Google? Again, who would pay this and what would be a fair rate?

Net neutrality is a movement that says that the net should remain free of levy of traffic type or providers. It mandates that there should be no charges made based on segregating traffic, for the simply reason that it is easy to abuse and it is anti competitive. Imagine being charged a different toll for EVERY road you drive your car on WITHOUT the option of taking a free route. It would probably affect your travelling habits, possibly preventing you from frequenting certain locations.

The net neutrality debate is becoming a major discussion topic in the US but whatever the outcome it will set a precedent fro the rest of the world. The Internet was designed as a free service for anyone to connect to and use, and imposing levies on this would no doubt have a major impact on the way it is used by everyone.