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Dear Mr. Silverman, It is Definitely Not "One Internet"

There's a lot of talk going on around the Internet about net neutrality, especially with the fight going on between AT&T and Google on the Google Voice service. While I am a strong believer in net neutrality, I think some of us are missing the fact that there is no "one Internet"--surely not in the way Josh Silverman, Skype's CEO desires.There are two areas where net neutrality falls apart and causes real problems to users:

1. Access to the Internet. 2. Services over the Internet.

Access to the Internet What originally ticked me off to write this post was something I read in an Om Malik post covering Skype's CEO's 3G desires:

"It is one Internet, and it doesn't matter what (kind of) network and what device you use to get to it," said Silverman. He sees no distinction between a PC or an iPhone, just as there is no difference in wired and wireless networks.

To list a few:

* At the home we have different access networks--a 100 Mbps symmetric fiber connection for the fortunate ones; an ADSL with relatively high download speed and smaller upload speed for the less fortunate.

* Connecting through WiFi, speed may be flaky depending on location and amount of other WiFi access points around. In the case of WiFi, packet losses are a fact of life and latencies are higher than that of a direct fiber or ADSL connection.

* Cellular users today should be thankful for a 200 Kbps connection. Packet losses here are the norm, and latencies are relatively high. So you see--there is no "one Internet" to speak of. Everyone out there is experiencing a different Internet, with different speeds and different network behavior.

Services Over the Internet And so net neutrality comes along, with the idea that all packets are born equal, and that none should be prioritized. While this sounds like a great democratic and socialist idea, it simply doesn't make sense.

Today the Internet isn't that old place you went to for viewing static web pages. Web 2.0 brought us collaboration and participation of users, which in most cases was asymmetric in nature: you either view or post and you can take your time doing that--a second or two of delay wouldn't hurt anyone.

In the case of bi-directional communication, however, such as in the case of a voice call or a video conference, timing is everything. Which immediately raises a conflict regarding net neutrality: would you want your VoIP calling service to drop the call quality just because your kid is browsing the Internet or ordering a song from iTunes? I know I wouldn't.

And while I won't hesitate to go for an HD video call over that "one Internet" from my office, where Ethernet is the access technology and bandwidth is relatively abundant, I wouldn't try doing it from a mobile handset--the network just can't handle it.

And there you have it - not all packets are equal. some packets are/should be prioritized. And "the Internet" is not just one homogeneous place. In other words, there is no "one Internet."