It will be my goal in this (hopefully not too long) post to introduce the concept of Network Neutrality. And to dispel any illusions of objectivity: I am in favor of Net Neutrality (and so should you!)
The concept of Network Neutrality is simple: treat all network data equally, regardless of who is sending it or who is receiving it. That means that the ISPs should treat data from Joe’s website the same as that from Yahoo!. This is an idea that we take for granted, but it is important in preserving the freedom that the internet presents for innovation and development of new applications and ideas.
So why should we care? The internet service providers want to establish a “tiered” internet, one with different levels of speed and bandwidth. They would charge more for the fastest tier and less for the slower ones. This means that traffic from corporations with money would dominate the internet, as smaller entities would be sending data in the slow lane. In this system, the net is not neutral; data from one source is treated differently based on the source.
This could lead to big problems, proponents of Net Neutrality say. In such a case, the ISPs would effectively control which sites you could see and have the power to block what they don’t want. If such a system was in place when Skype was first made, it would have been squashed. The ISP, knowing Skype would threaten their services, would block it and make it unavailable. The FCC chairman Genachowski admits even seeing one ISP block certain political views.
These threats should not be seen as conspiracy theories, and Save The Internet has cited ISP executives making their goals clear here. The opponents of Net Neutrality are generally affiliated with the big ISP’s, who would benefit greatly from having this monopolistic power. Feel free to call me out on this if you think otherwise!
Under the Bush Administration, Net Neutrality was stifled, and downright discouraged. The Justice department filed that new network regulations were not necessary and pretty much let the ISPs (who have a lot of lobbying power) do whatever they wanted. It’s nice to see the Obama Administration (including the FCC) take a stand for Net Neutrality.
There are genuine arguments regarding the increasing use of bandwidth and that ISPs must be able to fund themselves for these increasing demands. But I don’t think entrusting so much power into the ISPs, ultimately a profit-seeking entity, over the internet is a wise idea for the health of the internet.
Again, I don’t pretend to know all the answers, and feel free to make your comments.
Lastly, I’ll let a fellow Yalie by the name of John Hodgman explain it himself on the Daily Show
2 thoughts on “Net Neutrality, A Short Introduction – by “Andrew K””
Sure–without net neutrality, ISPs would control internet users’ access to content.
The flipside is equally true and equally unsettling–ISPs would similarly control access to users. It seems like it’d become uncomfortably easy for government agencies to control accessible content with a system structured to allow ISPs to do so.
To some extent, the ISPs already do have a tiered internet structure set up, as you have to pay more to get a faster connection. Yet, I think the crucial distinction lies in the content. Although there is currently a tiered system to restrict how fast you can access content, you are free to access whatever you want–the content itself is not restricted. Without net neutrality, the ISPs could block certain traffic (like BitTorrent or Skype calls), or restrict our access to certain content, and that is what makes many people (including me) wary of a loss of Net Neutrality.