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Technology is outsmarting net neutrality
People old enough to do so might remember Gilda Radner’s “never mind” skits. The basic plot was that Radner’s character would rant about some issue, such as the Equal Rights Amendment (which she mistook as an “eagle rights amendment”). Then when she learned that there really wasn’t such an issue as the one she was protesting, she would smile at the camera and say, “Never mind.” If you aren’t that old, here are two examples.
Net neutrality is having a Gilda Radner moment. After years of debate, protests, name-calling, and the like, technology is leaving net neutrality behind.
Here are at least three indicators that technology is outsmarting net neutrality.
The 5G effect
5G is the fifth generation of wireless technologies. The standards are still under development, but the technology will transcend today’s wireless and wireline networks, boost capacity severalfold, accommodate high-quality video, and unleash the Internet of Things. And as Bret Swanson explains, it will drive new efficiencies and new innovations across the economy.
What does this have to do with net neutrality? 5G will use network slicing, which enables multiple virtual networks on a common physical infrastructure. Each slice can be customized for specific applications, services, customers, etc.
Network slicing means the end of treating all internet traffic the same — if that ever really happened — which was supposed be a core principle of net neutrality. 5G explicitly customizes the network to different types of traffic.
The Netflix effect
As David Clark, a leader in internet development since the 1970s, explained earlier this year, Netflix and other large edge providers are bypassing the internet. More specifically, they are building or leasing their own networks designed to their specific needs and leaving the public internet — the system of networks that only promise best efforts to deliver content — to their lesser rivals.
What does this have to do with net neutrality? Increasing amounts of traffic are going over networks that use internet protocols but that are not the public internet. This bypasses the ideal that all traffic should be treated equal and allows the largest edge providers’ bits to receive preferential treatment.
The app effect
Mobile internet is leaving wireline internet in its dust in numbers of users and traffic. Mobile internet increasingly bypasses the World Wide Web because about 90 percent of customers’ mobile time is spent in apps, not the web, according to Smart Insights. Apps are gatekeepers that direct customers only to resources that the app makers choose, such as the restaurants and customer reviews chosen by Yelp.
What does this have to do with net neutrality? One of its basic premises is that customers should not be restricted in any way regarding the resources they can reach. But apps, by their very nature, violate that premise. And customers love it.
These three effects, and perhaps others, demonstrate that changing technologies and their underlying economics are bringing net neutrality to an end. So what to do with net neutrality? As Gilda Radner would say, “Never mind.”