Google, Netflix and ISP’s aren’t the only stakeholders in the middle of the net neutrality dispute. Net neutrality will have great impact on video collaboration as we know it – particularly when it comes to adoption, because video collaboration has the same problem as Netflix; it is high bandwidth traffic that requires high performance and reliability from the network, two things that are severely impacted when a service provider is allowed to throttle traffic. Video conferencing is at a tipping point as adoption increases over 27% per year on average, and the last thing it needs is the uncertainty of unresolved net neutrality issues.

The Debate

Highly controversial and widely disputed, the concept of net neutrality hangs over the internet.  The argument, distilled to the simplest idea, is whether the internet should be regulated with all traffic flowing across the network treated as “neutral.”  This would be a reclassification of internet services under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 as a utility-like service.

Opponents to this notion prefer the status quo without government shackles oppressing the free market.  They believe that providing internet service providers (ISPs) free reign to charge as they will and to create “fast lanes” that give preferential treatment to those that pay a premium is in the best interest of all.

Those In Favor

The catalyst giving rise to the debate about neutrality centers around the explosive growth of network applications.  In particular, video consumption across the internet has expanded to roughly 70% of the all network traffic.  One company squarely in the midst of the battle is Netflix, which is estimated to represent almost half of all traffic on the internet.  Unsurprisingly, Netflix leads the charge amongst other companies, like Google, pressing for change in the law favoring neutrality.

Proponents advocate that without net neutrality, service to the general public will eventually degrade as preference is given to those who pay up for premium bandwidth – leading to a divide among socioeconomic lines.  Another fear is that the additional costs for quality bandwidth would slow the growth of innovation by adding a barrier to entry – essentially large incumbent organizations with money would have an unfair advantage since they can afford better internet services.

Those Opposing

Opposing the idea of neutrality are the ISPs who bear the burden and cost of creating the networks and providing the bandwidth for the internet.  They argue that it would only be fair for the organizations driving the most usage to help pay for consumption and expansion.  These ISPs and their supporters see the internet more akin to how we currently use and pay for electricity, gas, and water (by usage) and less like telephony.  It should be noted that the cable providers have the additional motivation of protecting their television business against the encroachment of video streaming providers.  Furthermore, the organizations, such as Cisco, claim that net neutrality regulations would cause a chilling effect on innovation and development of the internet.

Already, several large providers, like AT&T, have already halted plans to roll out high-speed speed fiber lines as a response to proposed net neutrality laws.  At risk is approximately $45 billion in infrastructure investments sorely needed to keep America competitive worldwide (the US lags far behind 15 other countries in average internet speed).  On the intangible side, opponents worry that increased Federal regulation could lead to content censorship, much like what we currently see with broadcast television.

Video Conferencing & Net Neutrality

But for those of us in the unified communication and collaboration space – what does this all mean?  Proponents point out that, without net neutrality, video conferencing quality would suffer as general bandwidth is constricted as more capacity is reserved for those who are willing to pay for premium service.  Overall, this would lead to increased costs for the resources needed for reliable, quality video conferencing services, which may place it out of the reach for some businesses, slowing video collaboration technology adoption.

On the other side of the coin, opponents of net neutrality argue that QoS alleviates the fear of network constriction which is detrimental to video conferencing.  They would point out that internet “fast lanes” with priority would benefit certain video use cases – such as telemedicine.  In life or death situations, you absolutely need guaranteed connectivity that is not subject to general fluctuating internet traffic.  Opponents also advance the sentiment that net neutrality would hamper both technological innovation and expansion of the internet – which is vital to the growth of video conferencing and unified collaboration.

So where do you fall in this spectrum?  We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.

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