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All wireless networks are shared and limited

By 3 February 2011 4 Comments

A new PDF memo on the Verizon website indicates that they will be throttling the top 5% of data users on Verizon mobile networks, but some members of the blogosphere are calling this a “Net Neutrality Alert”.  Engadget said that this move was notable and that:

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that VZW has taken a notable position on throttling, and the link to its stance on net neutrality (as it applies to wireless, anyway) is fairly obvious.”

Even as broad and nebulous as “Net Neutrality” is, calling this move a Net Neutrality violation is a stretch because it involves reasonable and unbiased network management.  Wireless providers have always had terms of services that prohibit bandwidth heavy applications like P2P or BitTorrent, and for good reason because of the destructive nature of those applications.  Even on a much higher capacity network like Comcast’s cable broadband service, Comcast deployed a new system that throttles the heaviest users and the system was deemed acceptable by the FCC and even many of the strictest of Net Neutrality advocates, so it should be no surprise that Verizon needs to throttle the top 5%.

The heaviest users already got their share of the network and it’s only fair that the remaining 95% get a chance to access the network.  But from Verizon’s statements, this throttling of heavy is not persistent and only takes affect “periodically” which logically means during the heaviest congestion times.  When the network is not congested, the heaviest users can continue to hog as much bandwidth as they like because no one is harmed.  That sounds very similar to the Comcast’s “fair share” throttling scheme used on their cable broadband services which was recently approved by the FCC.

As for the new video transcoding system, Verizon or any other wireless provider has no choice by to shrink the video stream or not support them at all.  Mobile networks aren’t suitable for video on demand no matter how we might wish them to be.  A cell tower is designed to support hundreds or thousands of users and it can’t allow 3 HD movie streams to use up all of the capacity at the expense of every customer.  Even with higher capacity LTE networks, we might double or quadruple the capacity per MHz of spectrum at best, but that doesn’t come close to allowing all everyone to stream HD content.