“Traffic Shaping” sounds innocuous enough, right? It’s just an Internet Service Provider’s attempt …to control computer network traffic in order to optimize or guarantee performance, low latency, and/or bandwidth by delaying data packets.
In layman’s terms, traffic shaping allows an ISP (such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time-Warner or other DSL/Cable company), to throttle down the speed of non-critical Internet data (emails) in favor of giving priority to more time-sensitive data (VoIP audio, video, etc) so there’s less stuttering and delay. It’s intended to improve the Internet experience for customers.
What could be wrong with that? you ask. Indeed, on the surface, the technology seems beneficial and harmless. But like all new technologies, traffic shaping has a dark side (think nuclear power vs. nuclear devastation).
The same ability to prioritize streaming videos and VoIP calls can be used to filter out data, too. Thanks to packet-shaping, any data passing through an ISP can easily be re-routed, slowed down or even inexplicably “lost.” (For details, just ask the Chinese about Internet censorship, a tactic gaining popularity with repressive regimes worldwide).
Now, you might believe that in America—ostensibly still a Democracy—this would never be a problem. But just because our government might not try to control Internet traffic (wishful thinking, I might add), that doesn’t mean the ISPs themselves don’t have good reasons to slow down and/or steer people away from sites that promote issues contrary to their own interests (like this one). In fact, unjustified traffic-shaping is already occurring in democracies like Canada.
Without the threat of legal repercussions, it would be a simple matter for a company like AT&T to slow down websites or news sites reporting on Net Neutrality. By simply throttling back the speed to any webpage containing the phrase “Net Neutrality,” they could dissuade people from ever learning about the issue altogether. Taken to the extreme (guitar-riff here), ISPs could use this filtering technology to dictate ALL the news you see as well as the news you don’t see.
Do you really want to let some ISP make those decisions for you? I don’t.