Net neutrality, packet switching and circuit switching

Opponents of net neutrality often argue that network builders need to abandon the rules of network neutrality in order to enable high bandwidth video streaming services.

Danny O’Brien points out that this isn’t true, because you can use buffering:

It turns out it’s because [opponents of net neutrality] think that real-time streaming means that the bytes have to move in exactly real time — that’s to say, if you’re watching a movie encoded at 6Mb/s, you need a constant, unbreakable, 6Mb/s stream over the Internet. In other words, no-one told them about buffering.

Apparently, advocates of streaming have never wondered what that little grey bar that preloads your YouTube clip before you watch it, so you can cope with drops in the download rate, means. Or, more likely, have never actually watched a YouTube clip in their life, and just sit behind their desks wondering what everyone in the open-plan bit of their office is giggling at.

Put this way, the argument over net neutrality is essentially a rehash of the argument between whether a network is more efficient if it uses circuit switching or packet switching. To recap, circuit switching is where a network holds open a dedicated network channel between two endpoints, whereas packet switching is when the data transferred between the endpoints is split up into packets, which may traverse the network by different routes, and even arrive out of order (and are re-sequenced at the receiving end).

POTS telephony traditionally ran on circuit switching, but tcp/ip networking introduced the packet switching paradigm, which happens to be much more efficient. It appears that opponents of network neutrality want, in effect, to scrap packet switching and make parts of the net run on a less efficient paradigm.

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