Earlier this year, things got a little crazy when ISP and Mobile operator Free put in place a ISP-level opt-out ad blocker which mysteriously blocked mainly Google Ad properties. In the end, this became part of a bigger story, that of the ISP war against Google, which has included many ongoing accusations that Free “ratchets,” or provides lower bandwidth access to Google properties like YouTube.
With Google properties representing more than 50% of ISP and Mobile traffic, the debate has been launched in France as to whose responsibility this high amount of bandwidth is. Naturally, everyone wants to scream “Net Neutrality” and block any hint of ISP ratcheting traffic, or worse, creating tiered internet plans, with access (or un-ratcheted access) to high-bandwidth sites like YouTube costing an extra premium (similar to where TV went with Cable vs. public access). At the same time, ISPs and Mobile Operators are being held captive by the constantly rising bandwidth exigences of the web and app industry, while mobile plans and ISP rates are shrinking constantly.
Looking into the world of ratcheting internet based on certain criteria, I saw that as far back as 2010 rumors of Google talking with ISPs (here with Verizon in 2010) in which Google would pay Verizon to get ‘priority bandwidth,’ and how the potential deal (which was never confirmed by Google) would place Google competitors and all small internet sites at a disadvantage to their mega counterparts.
Additionally, I ran across an awesome tool – Measurement Lab – that uses DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) to measure how ISPs treat certain types of Bandwidth. One such use of this data, on NeutralityMap.org, allows you to look at how ISPs treat certain types of data – like BitTorrent traffic, for example. The map shows that, in France, for example, ISPs ratchet BitTorrent traffic anywhere from 25-55% of the time (see below)
Looking at this map, I initially found it shocking that my BitTorrents are being ratcheted (they still go pretty fast, admittedly); however, when I think about it, ISPs have a responsibility to make sure that everyone has access to internet at a speed that they promise in their contracts. Given that, if my neighbor is constantly using high-bandwidth sites or downloading information, I don’t want my internet experience on Twitter or WordPress to suffer because he’s just gotta have Season 1 of House of Cards.
This two-sided coin is not an easy problem, and both sides are constantly finding themselves on the offensive, point out the weaknesses of the opposing side. I think we need to remember that the Internet is only 20-25 years old, and it is likely going to be around for, well, ever. Whether Internet will become a commodity like electricity that we all have a right to have full access to, or whether it will become a tiered service like TV, is still very much in the air. And perhaps there is a third option down the road – we can already see Google rolling out fiber in the US – what happens when Google is not just my search engine, my video site, my social network, my email manager and my website admin tool, but is also my ISP, too. Will I still see Bing ads? Should I?