Recently, some of our clients noticed that their AWARDS experience was slower than normal. To those who contacted our Help Desk to ask what was happening, it was explained that the slowness was not related to AWARDS or our equipment but rather was the result of an inefficient technical negotiation between the various providers of internet backbone services nationally. It occurred to me that this might be somewhat confusing, so I thought it might be useful to take a minute to get into this. Believe it or not, this experience of slowness is a part of larger national conversation around something called “Net Neutrality.”
The New York Times has put together a great primer on what Net Neutrality is. I highly recommend that video because it clearly lays out how Internet Service Providers can slow and even stop your experience of all things on the internet, depending upon which backbone provider your data happens to travel through.
As a concrete example, the ARS Technica website posted this succinct article about how Netflix’s yawning need for bandwidth to serve its customers streaming movies has the Internet Service Providers working at cross purposes. Essentially, some Internet Providers, such as Verizon and Time Warner, are also content providers, and as such, are competitors with Netflix. It may be that those providers intentionally slowed down Netflix’s traffic, causing Netflix’s data to be re-routed to other providers which were then overloaded themselves.
The scenario posed by Ars Technica, where the various providers may or may not be receiving payments to speed up, or have a competitive reason to slow down, some internet traffic at the expense of others, is where the argument over Net Neutrality comes from. It is also the cause of the reported slower experience with AWARDS. The issue has gotten so acute recently that the President has publicly weighed in, asking his FCC to enforce Net Neutrality rules. You can read an article about that here.
This issue brings to light the mechanics, politics and technology behind the internet that goes well beyond how agencies receive AWARDS software. At Foothold, our mission is to support human service providers with the technology they need to do their work of helping the disenfranchised efficiently and effectively, because we believe in a world where people have equal opportunities and access. Equal access includes the internet. Therefore, we believe that Net Neutrality is critical to enforce.