Net Neutrality is Dead, But Myths About “Fast and Slow Lanes” Live On


When the FCC announced the termination of net neutrality regulations, many Americans were outraged because they feared Internet Service Providers would begin "throttling" access for certain customers who pay less less than others.

Net neutrality supporters claimed that without the FCC's regulation, ISP's would slow down or speed up Internet access based on how much one pays; the higher-paying customers would be placed into a "fast lane" and lower-paying ones into a "slow lane."

Though this fear was without foundation, as TPOH discussed back in December, supporters effectively claimed that eliminating net neutrality rules was akin to infants no longer receiving the polio vaccine.

Several months later, have you noticed any change in your overall online experience? Probably not. Still, certain myths continue to live on about the nature of Internet access and functionality.

In reality, data packets work the same way regardless of who the customer is, and the speed of data transmission does not depend on how much a customer pays versus how much another customer pays.

As telecom analyst Daniel Lyons explains, this idea is based on outdated ideas about the Internet.

Playing, perhaps, on the 1990s imagery of the Internet as an “information superhighway,” this rhetoric envisions broadband networks as segmented into various lanes of travel, with packets sorted into channels that move at different maximum speeds at all times. ...

This is a myth. All Internet traffic on a network moves at the same speed — the speed at which the electrons propagate on the wire. The problem is congestion: what happens when users want to transmit more data than the wire can physically manage at a particular moment. In this case, the network must drop some packets and allow others to go through. The dropped packets then must be resent, which delays the delivery of the service.

There are better ways to ensure that congestion is minimized online, but believing in myths about how the Internet works will only lead to "solutions" that create more problems.

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