The flash point for most current discussions of “network neutrality” (aside from the extension of fixed network rules to mobile networks) is whether service providers will be able to offer new services to end users and business partners that prioritize delivery of bits.

For the most part, application providers oppose the notion while service providers support it. At the risk of angering consumer advocates, optional prioritization is not only desirable, but likely necessary for an increasing number of end users and organizations.

The reason is that every trend in computing, communications and media is putting additional stress on the public Internet, and infrastructure upgrades likely will not keep pace.

New capacity log jams on internal and external networks are only going to get worse, says Ed Sperling, technology writer for Forbes.

Enterprises long have operated their own private communication networks, and the trend to distributed and network-based or remote computing is only going to reinforce that trend. Most of those networks will run point to point between enterprise office and other facilities. But as public Internet performance becomes more unpredictable, private wide area networks will gain favor.

Also, as real-time services–especially voice and video–move to the Web, even end users are going to want services that prioritize real-time applications and services over less critical or time-sensitive applications.

Also, despite the notion that there is plenty of fiber available, and while that is true on some routes, there are wide variances. Access fiber is scarce. Backhaul fiber is scarce. Rural region fiber is scarce. And even on routes between major population centers or across oceans, there is less diversity than many would like to see.

Still, adding more capacity on backbones does not solve the access problem. If one assumes massive increases in bandwidth-heavy video and increased use of Internet access for real-time voice, access issues are going to escalate.

For many application and content providers, that means more use of content delivery networks to accelerate packet delivery across the wide area network. But that’s only the start. At some point, end users are going to demand the ability to prioritize voice or video or both under conditions of congestion.

How service providers meet that need remains to be seen. But banning all packet prioritization seems foolish. Applications increasingly are housed and delivered from remote locations, and more of any end user’s application use includes real-time services. Since access bandwidth always will be at a premium, packet prioritzation will be needed.

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