Will technology solve network neutrality?

When I first read this post about Predictable Network Solutions on the excellent Telco 2.0 blog, I thought it was an April Fool’s Day hoax. Then I remembered that it’s a UK site, and some some Googling confirmed that it’s a real company. So my question is, will this technology — or something like it — eventually make network neutrality a non-issue? Or will it be the means for network operators to implement the discrimination that everyone is worried about?

Basically, Predictable Network Solutions makes technology that dynamically re-allocates network latency and throughput on a per-user basis. It works using statistical traffic models, not application-specific deep packet inspection. In theory, that means network operators will no longer have a network management reason to fear P2P traffic, because it won’t strain the peak capacity of the network. And also in theory, users and application providers will be free to use the network however they please, with better performance on bandwidth-intensive services like video than they experience today.

So is broadband nirvana around the corner? I’m not sure. It’s too early to tell.

Let’s assume the technology works as advertised, and this tiny British startup (or someone else taking a similar approach) succeeds in getting it deployed widely on major broadband networks. Network operators will still have choices in how they manage traffic and pricing. They will still have incentives to bundle their access service with content and applications, or to offer exclusive deals to preferred providers. If you think such arrangements are dangerous, better broadband congestion management won’t prevent them. It would, however, make clear tthat the deals are about revenue opportunities, not traffic engineering. A network operator that wants to exercise tight control over applications and content will see Predictable Network Solutions’ solutions as tools to help achieve that end.

The big lesson here is that technology doesn’t stand still. Network neutrality became a concern partly because application-specific traffic management became feasible. As network management technology develops, it’s likely to reshape the debate yet again.