Net Neutrality and Network Intelligence
An interesting sidenote to FCC chair Kevin Martin's much-appreciated moves in support of network neutrality is his delineation of certain acceptable ways of governing internet traffic:
"For example, he said it would be acceptable for a network to give priority to Internet telephone calls over e-mail, because short delays affect the quality of voice conversations much more than e-mail."
"Some packets are more valuable than others," says Dave Caputo, chief executive of network equipment-maker Sandvine Inc. "Bandwidth has three dimensions: speed; latency, or the time lag between each packet; and jitter, the predictability of the order of the packets. It doesn't take much bandwidth to have a good phone call. VoIP is not bandwidth intensive, but it is jitter- and latency-sensitive. Nobody cares about waiting an extra 200 milliseconds for e mail, but it makes a phone call or game useless; interactive applications are more time-sensitive than non-interactive ones. A game player needs less jitter, but P2P traffic can move just a little slower without bothering people."
Prioritizing applications that are latency- and jitter-sensitive "will solve a lot of problems for enterprises and Internet users in the home," says Caputo. Without that kind of network intelligence, he foresees "a tragedy of the commons for the Internet, with bully applications taking more than their fair share, and less bandwidth-intensive apps like VoIP and gaming losing out."
Such differentiation doesn't have to impinge on "network neutrality," the hot-button issue that deals with whether or not there should be differentiated prices for similar services. [Internet paterfamilias and Googe evangelist Vint] Cerf, a vocal proponent of network neutrality, which keeps service providers from prioritizing traffic from preferred users, e.g., those who pay more for enhanced service, is fine with prioritized traffic as long as it doesn't discriminate between providers of similar services.