Net neutrality is a sticky web with facts and fictions floating about everywhere. Many Americans do not fully understand the concept of this idea or what it means for themselves. Hopefully this will shed some light upon the topic.

The concept of Net Neutrality was originally proposed in 2003 by Tim Wu in his paper, Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. It talked about terms of neutrality between applications as well as neutrality between data and quality of service (QoS) sensitive traffic. He also proposed legislation on the matter.  It wasn’t until 2005 that cable companies, Internet service providers (ISPs) and consumers began to debate on the topic. The issue didn’t even meet the media’s attention until 2006. Since then, it has been going back and forth with the different sides of supporters and opponents.

Basically, without going too deep, Net Neutrality is “a principle proposed for user access networks participating in the Internet that advocates no restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as communication that is not unreasonably degraded by other traffic.”

In a perfect world, that would mean that everyone would have a right to the content of the internet with no restrictions and if people paid for the exact same service amount as another, they would receive the exact same.

Advocates of Net Neutrality say that without internet openness, web innovation would come to a slow down or even stop.  On the Google Public Policy Blog, they stated:

There’s a lot of awesome stuff on the Internet: Cats talking LOLspeakIranian dissidents tweetingLive traffic updatesScience experiments.

All of these things, and so much more, are possible because of the openness of the Internet. Any entrepreneur with an idea has always been able to create a website and share their ideas globally – without paying extra tolls to have their content seen by other users. An open Internet made Google possible eleven years ago, and it’s going to make the next Google possible.

If Net Neutrality would come into effect, people wouldn’t have their internet throttled or shut off because of streaming videos or downloading files that would put them over the cap.

Obama recently spoke about his views on the issue in a Q&A session.

But the principle isn’t free from certain technicalities.

Opponents of Net Neutrality say that more government is not needed to watch over the internet and having more FCC regulations would cause problems. Some believe that the FCC would start regulating what you can access on the web.

During a meeting with Wall Street Journal reporters and editors, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said,

I don’t see any circumstances where we’d take steps to regulate the Internet itself. I’ve been clear repeatedly that we’re not going to regulate the Internet.

According to the WSJ, when pressed, he admitted he was referring to regulating Internet content rather than regulating Internet lines.

Opponent Steve Titch of  The Reason Foundation argues that if government-enforced net neutrality rules were in place five years ago, the iPhone as we know it wouldn’t exist.

The non-discrimination principle that Genachowski seeks to mandate would prohibit service providers such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint from using their network resources to prioritize or partition data as it crosses their networks so as to improve the performance of specific applications, such as a movie or massive multiplayer game.

Right now, the FCC has an Internet Policy with four rules:

1. Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

2. Consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.

3. Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

4. Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

Two other additions that Genachowski wanted to add are

5. Broadband providers cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks, favor certain content or applications over others and cannot “disfavor an Internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider.”

6.Broadband providers must be transparent about the service they are providing and how they are running their networks.

There is also a bill that was introduced to the Congress, H.R.3458: Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, though it hasn’t been voted upon yet.

Here is a lengthy article that gives good information, though sometimes hard to follow.

The Net Neutrality debate is not likely to have an end or a solution any time soon. I can see where both sides are coming from, so I think I’m going to remain sitting on the fence until a more clarified solution that the masses can agree upon comes out. But who knows when that will be, if ever.

Until then, let’s hope that we can continue writing and surfing at our pleasure.

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