Akamai As Proof Of A Non-Neutral Net?

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An interesting Net Neutrality micro-debate has surfaced surrounding Akamai and whether Akamai’s services are a violation of Net Neutrality principles. This argument, produced by an influential Internet law professor, was used to illustrate that the Internet has never been neutral.

Akamai As Proof Of A Non-Neutral Net?

Net Neutrality, especially when you get into the technical minutia of the debate, can be a dense and difficult concept, and often advocates have to fall back on an I-know-a-violation-when-I-see-it argument. Too often this observation comes after a perceived breach of consumer trust and rights as a proof of concept.

Tim Lee, though, does a good job of putting Net Neutrality in the simplest of terms:

"Network neutrality is about the routing of packets. A network is neutral if it faithfully transmits information from one end of the network to the other and doesn’t discriminate among packets based on their contents. Neutrality is, in other words, about the behavior of the routers that move packets around the network."

It’s about other things, too, but that’s about as succinct an answer for a difficult concept you’ll find. It’s also about not allowing network providers to interfere with the information flow across the network, which is something ISP consumers expect, and not allowing them to create faster highways for the highest bidders, effectively creating entry barriers for low budget newcomers to the online market.

This is where the Akamai distinction comes in. Akamai provides a caching and redirection service for clients in order to speed up load times and relieve congestion on the network. According to Net Neutrality opponents, this amounts to (perhaps only at its semantic base) not just a tiered network – where a client pays for speedier delivery –  but also an interference with or manipulation of data.

The problem, says University of Pennsylvania law professor Christopher Yoo (the Net Neutrality antithesis to Columbia’s Timothy Wu), lies with redirecting a requested URL to a cached version on an Akamai server:

"The problem is that content delivery networks violate network neutrality. Not only does URL redirection violate the end-to-end argument by introducing intelligence into the core of the network; the fact that content delivery networks are commercial entities means that their benefits are available only to those entities willing to pay for their services."

Lee isn’t sure that argument holds water:

"This might be a violation of some extremely broad version of network neutrality, and there’s certainly reason to worry that an overzealous future FCC might start trying to regulate the relationship between ISPs and Akamai. But Akamai is not, as Yoo would have it, evidence that the Internet is already non-neutral."

Lee also agues that Akamai works at the application level, like the Web or email, by adding servers near the end user to increase efficiency for the end user, and not at the network level.

Other distinctions include that redirection to mirrored content is not interference with access to that content and there is no intelligence involved in the process. It is not an ISP double-dipping by creating chokepoints and effectively walling off content for reasons that suit their purposes.

Net Neutrality would mandate that ISPs provide the access for a fair price and then get out of the way. Improving the efficiency and speed with which people (the ISP customers) can find and disseminate information is not a violation of Net Neutrality principles. Favoring Yahoo over Google and purposefully making one search engine faster while degrading the other, would be a violation.   

Akamai As Proof Of A Non-Neutral Net?
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  • http://blog.bibleboy.org Bob K Mertz

    While I can understand the point made it is not accurate to the case with Akamai. When Akamai has a customer they are renting server space just like someone who sets up a hosting account with another company. Essentially, a company doesnt have the facilities to run their own server so they rent part of a server at a location that does have those facilities. When you become a customer of Akamai, you’re essentially doing just that but the difference is you’re renting multiple locations. Such as a nationwide company purchases office space in multiple states so that people on the east coast don’t have to travel to California to see someone in person. Same is true with shipping facilities and company warehouses. And if one of their customers needs to go to an office, they’ll go to the closest one. They’ll still travel in the same ways and take the same material to the office that they needed to but they’ll go to that paticular office based on LOCATION.

    This is exactly what Akamai is doing. They are essentially setting up multiple locations of data provided by their customer. Traffic is directed to the closest server based on the location of the source network and not on the content. It is not a manipulation of content which is what those critical of Akamai are infering. It is simply a matter of redirection based on the source and does not differentiate by it being a stream or an HTTP request with the possible exception of the data being stored in a different location.

    Think of it this way. Net Neutrality violations would be the local department of transportation saying that no red cars are permitted on a certain road because that would be a discriminatory regulation while saying that tractor trailers aren’t permitted on a smaller road would simply be an issue of capacity. Now, as a customer of my ISP, I pay for a certain amount of bandwidth. If I pay for a 3MB connection to the internet, then that is what I deserve the same way if I pay someone to build a driveway to my house I expect to be able to allow anything that I want on that driveway. If the contractor I hired to build my driveway said that they would only allow me to drive blue and yellow cars on that driveway then I’d tell them they were absurd and go somewhere else. Now, at the same time I may be paying for a single lane dirt driveway which would not be suitable for a sports car that I might own. In this scenario, I know what my needs are and I need to contract someone to build me a paved driveway that is compatible with my needs. Also, if I own property between two decent access roads and I decide that I want a driveway bult to both roads I am certainly entitled to do this. In this example I am allowing two entrances to my residence and I will use the one that makes the most sense based on where I am returning from (I’m not going to drive past driveway 1 to get to driveway 2 if I’ve already payed for both driveways. The same issue holds true with respect to color of the car. I purchased the drive way and if someone building that drive way told me that green cars were not allowed on driveway 1 they would be laughed at.

    This is the biggest problem with the net neutrality debate. People quite simply can not determine what is capacity and what is color. When you hire a contractor to build you a driveway you purchase that driveway based on the class of vehicle that you have and not based on the color of vehicle. This is the same when we purchase a connection to the internet. We go to our ISP and tell them that we want to pay them a certain amount of money for a certain amount of bandwidth and our ISP makes that connection. Once that connection is there I should be entitled to the 3MB that I paid for. Having an ISP tell me that I am not able to use P2P applications is exactly like telling me I can’t use a red car on my driveway. Additionaly, if you are a contractor that builds driveways and later the person who purchased that driveway carries an illegal substance in his car on that driveway, it is not the responsibility of the company that built the driveway or the manufacturer of the car but the responsibility of the person who was transmitting that illegal substance. If statistics show us that red cars are more likely to be transporting drugs is it fair to then say that all of the roads in a certain jurisdiction are no longer permitted to carry red cars? Again, this is absurd. Not only is it harming those who use red cars legally but it’s also not going to solve the issue. In fact, instead of solving the issue we have pushed the problem underground more because now those carrying illegal substances are now making an effort to disguise their transportation vehicle. Interestingly, this is the same thing that is occuring with the internet. Add to the legality debate the issue of the ISP saying they don’t have enough capacity. If this is true, how is it the fault of the customer? If all of my neighbors and I use a single road into our neighborhood and that road becomes congested, its not the responsibility of each resident but the responsibility of the developer of the neighborhood and/or the department of transportation. Currently the ISPs are punishing their customers because of a mistake that was made by the ISP (overselling their network). If it comes down to it, the ISP is going to have to raise their rates to support their capacity but currently they are not only raising their rates but they are also making absurd rules to cover their mistakes and to maximize profits because of the unfair advantage they have.

    Akamai is not responsible for violating the concept of net neutrality because of their content delivery systems. This is mostly a “gatekeeper” debate and will not be solved until people grasp the concept of what the ISPs are doing rather than listen to the skewed concepts put forth by those ISPs. Resolutions can not be made by people or companies that have a stake in the results and, as such, the ISPs can not be the ones making the final decissions.

  • Guest

     You’re crazy!  Net neutrality is about the freedom to have choices and deliver content in whatever manner you choose.  It’s NOT about making all things equal all the time for everyone on the net.  The simple fact is that if a customer wants a global reach they have to have some locale or presence in those areas.  Delivering content from a central location may slow but no one is preventing someone from doing it.  The fact that they use Akamai to do it doesn’t mean net neutrality is gone.  It simply means they’ve chosen to solve the problem through a managed service.  People attempt to solve this problem in other ways including caching proxies, buying hardware appliances, etc.  If they want a free option they could use coral CDN…this author needs to do more homework and less writing.  He’s somewhat ignorant on this subject.


  • http://www.nakedfemalebodybuilders.net female

    Read your article and the comments. I want to say that Akamai’s services has never been a violation of Net Neutrality principles! Never!

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