Please note, this is not a criticism of the ideals of network neutrality but rather of specific proposals. In general, I think it is important to ensure that ISP's are not blocking content for arbitrary reasons. However, in some cases, they may want to block content (with the customer's permission or in the customer's interest) and/or shape the traffic to prevent some individuals from saturating upstream links. Indeed, I think there are a number of reasons why ISP's would legitimately depart from the ideals of network neutrality without sacrificing the core benefits those ideals provide. The main areas of obvious departure include:
- Blocking of network ports relative to security risks but with few legitimate uses, provided a customer can request non-blocked service
- Blocking of known malware based on deep packet inspection (my ISP does this).
- Utilizing traffic shaping and queuing in order to ensure that the main uses of an ISP continue to perform well.
These approaches are aimed at protecting users either from common mistakes that non-technically-minded users are likely to make or from compromised nodes of the network (viruses etc). A second main goal is to ensure reasonable customer satisfaction by ensuring that the most frequent applications of internet-based technologies perform adequately regardless of the behavior of other users. We do not need to treat a virus the same way as a web page request in order to get the primary benefits of network neutrality, and overly broad proposals would have the effect of limiting ISP choice in how to provide properly for customers. Therefore I would suggest that network neutrality should therefore be seen as excluding the following forms of broadband discrimination:
- Blocking of network traffic for reasons of security, providing that a customer can opt-out of blocking rules
- Blocking of known works and viruses, whether or not a customer can opt-out
- Traffic shaping aimed specifically at ensuring that a small group of customers does not monopolize upstream links provided that performance is not degraded beyond available bandwidth (after higher priority queues are cleared)
FWIW, I don't see a lot of net neutrality proponents rushing to ban these sorts of practices. If we can exclude these practices from net neutrality-oriented legislation, I would be quite happy.