news Pirate Party Australia has labelled as “unacceptable” Telstra’s plans to trial a system whereby certain Internet services, such as BitTorrent file downloading, would be de-prioritised on its network, stating that the implementation of ‘net neutrality” was “essential” for the future of Australian broadband.
Yesterday, Six months after it first notified customers of its plans, the nation’s largest telco Telstra finally kicked off a limited and completely voluntary trial of advanced traffic management techniques on its network that will see peer to peer traffic through platforms such as BitTorrent throttled. Only a small number of Victorian customers will be involved on Telstra’s ADSL network.
However, the Pirate Party said in a statement this afternoon that the trial raised concerns with regard to Internet traffic prioritisation. “Pirate Party Australia considers that ‘net neutrality’ — where types of traffic are not discriminate against — is essential for modern Australia. The Party’s policy pushes for a ban on screening and prioritising of traffic based on content, source or destination, with opt-in prioritisation if subscribers choose,” the party’s statement said.
“Net neutrality is vital for a free Internet,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “Throttling certain services and promoting others will damage any new service or product coming online. Differentiated services is a slippery slope to a situation where companies could pay for their content to be prioritised. The next Google or Facebook, being a start-up would not have access to a comparable speed and would find it more difficult to compete with the more powerful incumbents purely because they could only afford access to the B-Grade Internet. For the Internet to remain a place of innovation any attempt to benefit some sections at the cost of others must be resisted.”
“For example, Telstra owns the rights to stream NRL and AFL games. Being able to prioritise the streaming of their broadcasts would come at the cost of a poorer service for other types of content which would be de-prioritised. Old media and telecommunications companies are always looking for ways to regain control over the flow of information and this gives them a means to achieve it,” Frew continued.
The Pirate Party pointed out that it had been suggested by other ISPs that Telstra was introducing the trial to avoid upgrading its ADSL network. Even if throttling subscribers’ connections may be a way to reduce network congestion without improving the quality of their services or infrastructure, the party claimed, “it is not a feasible long-term solution for growing needs”.
In general, the Pirate Party noted it was “a keen supporter” of a fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network,” such as was slated to be implemented under the previous Federal Government’s NBN policy.
“The copper network was built decades ago and was never intended for high-volume digital traffic,” Frew said. “Using it as a cheaper alternative to optical fibre will only be cheap in the short term, it will still need to be replaced and doing that as part of the NBN roll-out makes much more sense than trying to maintain outdated technology, which will need updating much sooner for Australia to stay competitive.”
The Coalition’s NBN policy will see a much more limited rollout of fibre, with lower speeds provided due to the policy’s continued reliance on portions of Telstra’s copper network. However, speeds are projected to be significantly higher than current ADSL speeds for most Australian premises.
I agree with the Pirate Party that FTTP would make this entire issue moot, however we don’t really have that option right now, given the Coalition’s FTTN policy. I’m reserving judgement on the Telstra throttling as a whole until we see the results of the trial (if we do). It may be relatively harmless. As I’ve mentioned previously:
“The difficulty with technology … is that even those systems which we perceive as pure, are actually anything but.
Network neutrality? Don’t make me laugh. Every time you download a packet over virtually any broadband service in Australia, your ISP prioritises it in some way, shape or form. iiNet openly admits its FetchTV service gets priority over everything else on its network (hell, it even requires you to use its own ADSL router to facilitate even greater control by the ISP), Telstra has done the same thing for years and years with its own IPTV services, and I’m 100 percent sure that others such as Optus, TPG and even that God’s Gift to Broadband, Internode, does precisely the same thing. All Telstra revealed last week was a trial that would take that already entrenched that environment just one step further. And it’s even voluntary.”
I think we need to let Telstra try this and see what happens. It may not be worth raising a fuss about this yet — especially if Telstra makes the whole thing completely voluntary on an individual basis.