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    The Internet is more utilitarian than romantic and needs traffic cops: report  
    The Canadian Press  


    October 17, 2007  

MONTREAL — The Internet shouldn't be "romanticized" as a place where all content flows equally, and it needs some kind of traffic management as the number of users and the amount of video increases, says a report on Net neutrality.

Without some way to manage congestion on the Internet, it will become a less useful tool, said the report by the SeaBoard Group, which follows technology and the telecommunications industry.

The idea that content flowing over the Internet be treated equally, regardless of user, application or destination doesn't make the Internet better, Iain Grant, managing director of SeaBoard, said Thursday.

Grant said what is known as "Net neutrality" is a romantic notion being applied to the Internet that never existed.

"The Net was never neutral," he said. "It was actually developed by the U.S. military - that's hardly neutral. Let's not let our romanticized notion of fraternity and the rest of it interfere with our understanding of history."

"It's not about human rights. It's a communications tool, guys, and it really ought to be managed like one."

The report, called "It's Just A Tool. Reason, Not Romance: A Better Internet in the Balance," said Net neutrality will result in more congestion.

"As traffic on the Internet builds, network performance degrades," the report said.

Philippa Lawson, executive director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, said the Internet isn't a communications device that can be controlled.

"It's not an issue of romanticizing the Internet," said Lawson, director of the clinic, based at the University of Ottawa.

The basic rule is that traffic flows equally and freely regardless of its content, or who sends it or where it's being sent, she said.

"It's about treating traffic equally other than in exceptional circumstances where everyone agrees that we need to take action. For example, to limit spam or to deal with complaints about offensive or illegal content."

Traffic shaping or throttling has become an issue.

Bell Canada has been given permission to continue slowing down traffic from independent Internet service providers on its network during peak periods until the federal telecommunications regulator makes a final decision.

Rogers Communications has had traffic-shaping policies for some time.

Grant said one of the fairest ways to manage traffic is to have users pay more for consuming more bandwidth, which is used by some Internet service providers, and Lawson agrees with this idea.

Traffic is only expected to grow on the Internet. The number of users has risen to 1.4 billion and is expected to increase another 200 million in the next 18 months, said SeaBoard, which has clients in the telecommunications industry.

The report said bandwidth-hungry applications such as video-sharing site YouTube, peer-to-peer file sharing, images from cellphone cameras and surveillance video are all continuing to increase in popularity on the Internet and will drive up global Internet traffic.

Net neutrality would discourage Internet service providers from upgrading or building new networks and would result in increased costs to consumers for a standardized level of service, the report said.

Grant also said governments should resist an "overt" regulation of the Internet and that market forces and existing legislation and regulations should continue to shape the Internet.

The report notes the Internet's thousands of global networks are generally owned and managed by private organizations.

Lawson said traffic shaping is a violation of the principle of Net neutrality and there are other ways to deal with traffic congestion such as pricing.

"Generally that's what you do in a capitalist system. You raise the prices and the demand goes down or you build more capacity."

On one hand, Internet service providers say they don't want to be liable for content, but on the other hand they want to shape it, she said.


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