The SDN Impact on Net Neutrality

The SDN Impact on Net Neutrality

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The SDN Impact on Net Neutrality

The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true. Let us protect the neutrality of the net. – Tim Berners-Lee -Inventor of the World Wide Web
Over the next 10 years the networking industry is going to transform much more than it has in the previous ten year. The catalyst as we know it today is called SDN. What SDN really means is, the time has come to bring networking into the same decade conceptually, as the rest of the computing world. Networking will move away from being a collection of loosely coupled monolithic devices, into a more layered and programmatic construct that will resemble the virtualization of the x86 market. With this new found flexibility will bring new ways of controlling the traffic that today essentially drops in the mailbox and is never seen again. I propose that network service providers (NSPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs) will be able to skirt around any net neutrality regulations by exploiting emerging technologies. With great power, comes great responsibility.The SDN impact on net neutrality may very well programmatically dismantle what is left of a unified Internet.

What is Net Neutrality?

Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.
For example, if you are shopping for a new appliance online you should be able to shop on any and all websites, not just the ones with whom your provider has a preferred business relationship. Or If you want to use your high-speed Internet connection to make phone calls, your provider should not be able to impede your ability to do so.

Pro Net-Neutrality Position

Discrimination: The Internet was designed as an open medium. The fundamental idea since the Internet’s inception has been that every Web site, every feature and every service should be treated without discrimination. That’s how bloggers can compete with CNN or USA Today for readers. That’s how up-and-coming musicians can build underground audiences before they get their first top-40 single. That’s why when you use a search engine, you see a list of the sites that are the closest match to your request — not those that paid the most to reach you. Discrimination endangers our basic Internet freedoms.
Double-dipping: Traditionally, network owners have built a business model by charging consumers for Internet access. Now they want to charge you for access to the network, and then charge you again for the things you do while you’re online. They may not charge you directly via pay-per-view Web sites. But they will charge all the service providers you use. These providers will then pass those costs along to you in the form of price hikes or new charges to view content.
Stifling innovation: Net Neutrality ensures that innovators can start small and dream big about being the next EBay or Google without facing insurmountable hurdles. Unless we preserve Net Neutrality, startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay for a top spot on the Web. On a tiered Internet controlled by the phone and cable companies, only their own content and services — or those offered by corporate partners that pony up enough “protection money” — will enjoy life in the fast lane.
– -Net Neutrality 101

Anti Net Neutrality Position

-Those who oppose net neutrality argue that it is an absolutely futile exercise as none of the Internet service providers would go about sabotaging their rivals by blocking their content or degrading network performance. They also cite the example of other networks, which are functioning properly even with the major contributors being in charge of them.
-Speaking against net neutrality, the Internet service providers justify the norm of charging more for heavy Internet usage, as this money helps them create better infrastructure, and indirectly contributes to the quality of service. They further add that the high fees are only meant for large companies who have a heavy usage, and these companies, they say, can definitely afford the fees.
-Then again, the legislation has to be defined clearly. Loose ends will be used by people with vested interests for their own benefits. As for the government control of the Internet, those against this type of Internet regulation say that it will depend on the government’s attitude. When in wrong hands, net neutrality can be used as a tool of Internet censorship or invasion of privacy.
– Net Neutrality Pros and Cons-

How does Application Aware SDN Networks

The two-lane model is in full effect today. Carriers run managed services for enterprise customers, mobile back hauls for other carriers or their own triple play service and application offerings. There are also expensive traffic management, application aware black boxes that classify and shape or limit consumer traffic such as peer to peer rate-limiting and blocking.

Emerging traffic engineering techniques such path computation element (PCE) takes a set of resources like price, QOS and strategic business goals and strategies and applies to to MPLS and Generalized Multi-Protocol Label Switching (GMPLS) networks. This is the beginning of programmatic interfaces to create application aware Label Switch Paths(LSP) in provider networks. A core change to the packet switched networks of today, is decoupling route computation from the forwarding planes of monolithic networking elements we have today.

There is little neutrality within carrier network when it comes to services, applications and alongside consumer Internet drains. It differentiates managed services, applications, mobile backhauls and everything else more important than consumer Internet traffic.

Application Aware Internet Peerings

What Application-Layer Traffic Optimization (Alto) is attempting to solve is inter-organizational (ex. Verizon to Akamai) is the attempt through the IETF and presumambly other standards bodies, to consolidate on a common framework to exchange those similar constraints that PCE consumes to be able to stitch those same polices from one administrative boundary to another. How long standards bodies are relevant for this sort of thing may be questionable, as proper abstraction visits networking, it is certainly reasonable to expect the open source community begin defining answers to application aware inter-domain networks, rather than long drawn out standards processes. When Google and Facebook talk to one another they don’t go to the W3C to

My Thoughts

“usage-based pricing could be healthy and beneficial” – Julius Genachowski – FCC Chairman
Recently, there is another push from carriers to challenge the court decision of the Verizon vs. FCC upholding of net neutrality. The past 20 years of networking technology did not support the enourmous complexity that would be involved in taking loosely coupled distributed networking devices and inter-AS peerings and apply the complex constraints of policy, business and technology to shape in agreed upon algorithms between organizations. SDN represents the decoupling of layers from network devices into more efficent abstractions. I argue these preferred paths through the interconnects of the Internet were not remotely affordable and able to be operationalized at scale and granularity. That functionality is on the horizon through the transformation of current networking constructs.

This virtualization of the network, will allow for the extension of the existing two-lane networks that exist inside of carrier networks today, to be proggrammaticaly orchestrated between the peerings that create the web, that is the Internet today. Most operators if given the choice, choose to scale out and up bandwidth, rather than attempting to operate at scale, the coarse and incredibly complex QOS policies today. The elimination of the technical barriers to accomplish inter-carrier lanes of prefered traffic, would make it much easier to undermine the foundations the Net Neutrality protects the consumer today.

The FCC’s net neutrality rules prohibit cable, fiber and DSL broadband companies from blocking websites, allow users to use the software and devices of their choice, and require companies to be transparent if they use traffic-management software. Mobile-internet companies would have to abide by a lesser standard, but are prohibited from blocking VOIP applications like Skype or video services like YouTube or Netflix that compete with their own offerings. – House Votes to Undo Net Neutrality Rules – Wired
It will be interesting to see how the FCC manages to keep a watchful eye, while constantly being challenged by the carriers as not having any authority. I for one am not optimistic that the FCC has the will or leadership to accomplish that. The irony is, that the U.S. House of Representatives voted 397-0 in opposition to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the United Nations takeover of Internet regulations seeking similar tollbooth tactics. Yet a year ago, the Republican backed bill, to overturn net neutrality that went before the Senate in 2011 barely survived in a 46 to 52 split on party lines. The net neutrality issue is beginning to resurface in 2013, just months after the 2012 court ruling.

In the end the question should be, how do we build more capacity into national infrastructures to meet the needs of all consumers for economic development, communities educational needs and protecting basic Internet freedoms, not tiered services filled with data caps. Lowering expenditures through innovations is vital to growth, but we should be wary of the new methods of limiting and capping consumers access and freedoms, through emerging technologies on the horizon. All of that said, if a manageable mechanism of creating two-lane network highways across multiple carriers over the Internet becomes operationally programmatic, I don’t see the FCC or any other regulatory body being able to audit and enforce net neutrality regulations. There is a committe that has been formed by the FCC, to have open policy debate on the topic of net neutrality. In the last meeting at Stanford University, the panel focused heavily on QOS policy. To the FCC’s credit those events are streamed and advertised on their twitter account. I personally think those who make a living shoving light and electricity into tubes, have some responsibility to help shape this policy.  For or against, net neutrality, the topic is vastly complex and needs those with a deep understanding of the technologies and their implications for our future generations.

Thanks for stopping by.

About the Author

Brent SalisburyI have over 15 years of experience wearing various hats from, network engineer, architect, devops and software engineer. I currently have the pleasure of working at the company that develops my favorite software I have ever used, Docker. My comments here are my personal thoughts and opinions. More at Brent's BioView all posts by Brent Salisbury →

  1. MattMatt02-14-2013

    Good article. I wonder how this will affect the ability of end users to detect foul play. Obviously if a large group of users all have bad performance (a la Comcast throttling Vonage, etc.) there is circumstantial evidence. It may be come even harder to “prove”, though.

  2. KanatKanat09-29-2013

    Good observation. It’s already happening with services like torrent.

    SDN will bring capabilities that are either too complex or expensive into SP toolbox. I agree with your assessment – like any business SP’s are concerned in the bottom line and net neutrality is standing in the way. After all there’s a precedent with Google cooking the search results for fee. Verison is aiming for same thing, it’s just slightly lower on OSI model 🙂
    Then there’s whole political angle to tied to lack of scalable tools to regulate/censor the flow of information and remove anonymity in the Interwebs.

    I can see the increase in lobbying efforts in near future. It’ll have to pass the court of US public opinion, but after rather weak public reaction to NSA revelations I wouldn’t hold my breath on this one.

    You’ve touched on the subject of unintended consequences of SDN development – could it be the Rubicon moment Internet experience as we know it today?