A while back, I wrote an impassioned post about net neutrality, why it matters, and why you should care. The truth is, net neutrality is already dead in New Zealand. Traffic is charged differently depending on where it is coming from and going to. We have zero-rated TiVo on-demand data, but only if you are on Telecom. If you’re on Orcon, you get free traffic to the O-zone, and more recently, free YouTube until February. The favouritism extends to mobile data: for $2.50 per month you get all-you-can-eat music download data on Vodafone’s MusicStation.
Orcon’s Duncan Blair commented on their YouTube offering:
YouTube is the single biggest site used by our customers (by data). As we all know Kiwi’s [sic] hate data caps. While we can’t remove them altogether we thought that giving customers free access to the biggest single site was a pretty good step in the right direction.
It’s not all milk and honey and free data. Telecom makes no secret about heavy traffic shaping in their Big Time plan, making special mention of “file sharing”. Telecom (“there is no prioritisation of any traffic, its all treated the same”) and Vodafone (“nope, none of that. It’s all easy bits on the network”) deny that they shape any other traffic, but I’m wondering if it’s just that I’m asking the wrong question. Take a look at Orcon’s “service control” functionality, documented last year in a rather technical and in-depth post. It’s hard to imagine that the big guys don’t do something similar.
Like I stated earlier, the purest form of net neutrality – all packets and all destinations treated equally – is already long dead in New Zealand. ISPs are openly choosing favourites, either in the hope that it will land them extra customers (Orcon), or for revenue sharing opportunities (Telecom and Vodafone).
Is this a bad thing? It depends on how you look at it. In all cases – so far – what consumers are getting is improved or cheaper services, but only if you are in the right place at the right time. It’s hard to complain when you get free YouTube traffic, but it’s a little easier to complain if you have to switch ISPs to use TiVo. It does feel like ISPs are playing fast and loose with traffic for their own purposes.
Duncan Blair clarifies this approach, effectively saying that it’s not anti-neutrality until it’s bad for the customer:
I think the net neutrality debate in general is pretty vague, but where we see it becoming a problem would be if service providers essentially create a tiered internet. Some examples:
- a provider was to deliberately degrading VoIP traffic in order to protect their traditional voice revenues.
- a provider entirely blocking some protocol, and charge extra to get access to it.
- a provider completely blocking access to a competitors site or product.
This is all totally icebox as long as it remains to the benefit of the consumer. But it’s also a barely discernible line between ‘it’s good for you’ and ‘it’s for your own good’. I can easily imagine the statement becoming “YouTube is the single biggest site used by our customers” … and it’s affecting our other traffic, so we need to charge extra for full-speed access.
At this stage I’m keeping my scepticism in check, and am hopeful that we’ll see more cost benefits from partnerships between ISPs and content providers. But mark my words: the moment this becomes a “for your own good” scenario, I’ll be the first one to the barricades.
How about you? Are you happy to have a non-neutral internet in New Zealand as long as it means cheaper data? Or should we be making noise about this before it turns nasty?