If you use DSL, you’ve already lost …

I’ve been meaning to write something about this for a long time. This won’t be a perfectly thought out piece. It’s been years since this stuff was in my head, so it is what it is.

In thinking about net neutrality, I was remembering back to the early, early days of DSL. At the time, I was a system admin, jack-of-all-trades at one of the largest regional ISPs in the Puget Sound, based in Seattle.

The thing I realized as we were all discussing whether to get into the DSL business was the fact that DSL traffic was being routed over the ATM network. Any packets on the ATM network from DSL were not given priority and could be dropped. This was in the contracts that the ISP had to sign. The data to and from ISP customers connecting via DSL were the least important data on the ATM network and if there were any congestion, that data could be killed.

I remember realizing that this was the big dirty secret. Not only could the big teleco get dial-up people off the wire with their long calls and need for decent quality, but by moving the customers of independent ISPs on to the ATM network the big teleco could do all kinds of prejudicial and nasty routing of that data.

So, my point is this: independent ISPs were forced by the big telecos to give up network neutrality when they started to offer DSL services back in the 90s. And, individuals connecting to the Internet via DSL also lost network neutrality silently in the same moment.

Big telecos might be so cavalier about net neutrality these days because they know they’ve been winning that war for years already. They’ve always been trying to monetize the data both ways, and now that the independent regional and smaller ISP is pretty much irrelevant … who’s left to be vigilant if not the individuals themselves?