The Big Idea: How Verizon, Net Neutrality, and VPNs Could Usher in a New IT D.I.Y. Movement

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As you may have heard, Net Neutrality has resurfaced as an issue, but the truth remains that many people still do not know exactly what Net Neutrality is. What’s the big deal?

Okay, here’s a quick primer on Net Neutrality. During the Obama Administration, Net Neutrality was personified when a cable company used their service (providing Internet and broadband bandwidth to subscribers) to slow down and minimize download and streaming services (Netflix, for example) to vendors in order to renegotiate terms for contracted services. The tactic used on Netflix provided advocates of Net Neutrality a platform to showcase how important it was. Access to the Internet should not be used as a bargaining chip. Thus, the Obama Administration and the FCC came together to make a situation like that unlawful.

Silhouette of a man working for a laptop hacker 3d illustrationWith the arrival of the Trump Administration, the issue of Net Neutrality is up for debate again, and the concern that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are going to throttle other peoples traffic in order to favor traffic the ISP has an investment in is, once again, a matter for debate. According to an Ars Technica article, Verizon recently began experimenting with throttling of video traffic. What makes this particular story concerning Net Neutrality interesting is that in throttling back Netflix and YouTube, Verizon also choked their own Go90 video platform equally well.

Yes, you heard that right: Verizon actually maintained Net Neutrality by throttling their own video streaming platform.

How it went was that Verizon Wireless customers noticed Netflix’s speed test tool capped at 10Mbps. Consumers anxious to get their episodes of Sense8 and Black Mirror were afraid that their preferred streaming video service was being throttled. To be fair, Verizon did acknowledge a new video optimization system was being tested, that the test was temporary, and that this system test did not affect the actual quality of video. The video optimization test was being carried out in order to apply the data caps both to limited and unlimited mobile plans.

Some YouTube users apparently reported degraded video, adding that when they used a Virtual Private Network (VPN) they could bypass the Verizon throttling. Granted, VPNs are usually reserved for the tech-savvy crowd, but with the right help or the right website, a VPN is easily set up at your home.

So what Verizon was trying to do apparently was not a violation of Net Neutrality. They were trying to find a way to send video through their pipes and use less bandwidth, utilizing some sort of compression algorithm on the video as it was passing through so it would use less resources in order to make the most of their server systems. This performance test was, according to Verizon, applied to all video platforms, so performance should return to normal once their test concludes.

Admittedly, the ability to bypass said throttling by utilizing a VPN is an intriguing workaround. It is actually a pretty nice deal, and could motivate many to figure out how to create one for themselves. Who knows what other kind of DIY IT solutions this test will encourage.

 


 

shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.