Network neutrality or Internet neutrality, is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication (Definition:Wikipedia).
Regardless of whether the agreement between Netflix, a popular US video streaming service and Comcast, one of the biggest US cable providers, already needs to be seen as the end of network traffic neutrality, it will happen.
Netflix’s acknowledgement that it had reached an agreement with Comcast to “make its service run smoother for the cable company’s customers” means nothing else than that Netflix pays Comcast for a preferred routing of their data packages over other regular internet traffic. And this is just the beginning. In yesterday’s issue of German Handelsblatt, Ericsson’s CEO Hans Vestberg was quoted with the statement “Some SMS shouldn’t have the same priority than important medical data.” Well, both have a point here. Of course Netflix has a valid interest to improve the viewing experience of their online video services. Ericsson recognizes the opportunity to develop and sell the intelligent technology that will allow to distinguish between “important” and “unimportant”, or better said between “preferred” (while being paid an extra for) and “regular” internet traffic. Since there doesn’t seem to be a very strong desire from regulatory authorities or governments, to protect the network traffic neutrality, it seems to be a matter of time, until we’ll be used to pay for “preferred” handling of our data packages in the one or the other way.
Compared to other threats to the Internet such as the growing tendency of censorship in more and more countries, the ubiquitous surveillance or the steadily growing dominance of some big Internet companies, this seems to be a minor frog to swallow. However, paying for data package priority, independent from the available bandwidth will reshape the expectation of the Internet as being an unregulated Autobahn, open to anybody in an equal manner. Let’s accustom ourselves to toll-roads, countryside highways and even muddy trails again.