010: Volume 3, Issue 1, pp. 51-73

Ends and Ways: 
The Algorithmic Politics of Network Neutrality

Fenwick McKelvey



The Internet in Canada is an assemblage of private and public networks. A variety of institutions and networking codes manage these networks. Conflicts exist between these parties despite their interconnection. Tensions heightened when commercial ISPs began managing traffic on their network using sophisticated routing algorithms. Concerned parties demanded legislation based on a network neutrality principle to prevent undue discrimination. While the network neutrality controversy has been addressed as a question of public policy, the controversy also includes a conflict between various codes constituting networks in Canada. The conflict between codes involve two key networking software that manifest incongruous networks. Their algorithms, the logics embedded in code, differentiate the different types of networking code. The two types of algorithms are Quality of Service and End-to-End. These algorithms treat different modalities of Internet communication differently, in part due to their deployment by different institutions. Quality of Service allows for the tiering of traffic by carriers. Commercial carriers have popularized this algorithm to promote value-added services and prevent network congestions. End-to-end algorithms, on the other hand, enforce a strict equality between modalities of communication. Peer-to-peer applications have popularized an extreme version of the end-to-algorithm, treating all nodes as equals. The popularity and growth of both these algorithms pulls the Internet in different directions, creating conflicts over its future. Through an extended review of these two algorithms and their intersection, this paper confronts how code plays a role in the network neutrality controversy.



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