Media Relations Minute: A crash course in net neutrality
Published on August 30th, 2010 by Matt Stallman
In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the phrase “net neutrality.” If you haven’t heard, there has been a heated debate on the true intentions of a recent joint proposal by Google and Verizon about how net neutrality should be enforced. So much has been said and written canvassing this issue that maybe it is a good idea to provide a crash course on net neutrality so you can form your own opinion about this multifaceted debate.
Net neutrality fundamentally means that all traffic on the Internet is to be treated equally. In other words, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not discriminate against users or sites. For example, Internet users are guaranteed the ability to connect to some obscure site out of Sweden just as easily as they would be able to connect to Google. Essentially, net neutrality proponents are looking to ensure that the Internet remains free and open for everyone. In doing so, this promotes innovation from anyone, anywhere in the world.
In their proposal, Google and Verizon suggest that even if net neutrality becomes law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would allow companies to create a second privatized Internet that would enable users to pay a premium for faster browsing speed and other yet-to-be-developed technologies.
Another point of contention in this proposal is that net neutrality should not apply to the wireless industry. Many argue that Google and Verizon’s position of excluding wireless from this proposal could conveniently result in some very large money-making loopholes for these two giants.
A major concern within these aforementioned privatized networks is that if certain content does not favor the interest of the ISP, it could be blocked or be made very slow to access. Amazon.com could, in theory, have an agreement in place with AT&T that would allow greater bandwidth to Amazon.com than to the sites of their competitors.
However, a common argument exists against net neutrality: Because cable and telephone companies have spent vast sums of money creating these networks, why should the FCC be able to tell them how to run their businesses? In fact, many argue that by allowing cable and telephone companies to sell their own private high-speed “pipeline,” it would encourage them to invest in more advanced Internet-accessing technologies. Thus, competition amongst providers would bring about more benefits and opportunities for consumers.
It is an interesting paradox to consider that net neutrality advocates wish to ensure a free and open Internet, but in doing so, they would be inhibiting these corporations and their customers to operate in a free and open marketplace.
During a recent speech, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota said, “Net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time.” Though no longer in its infancy (depending on who you ask), the Internet is definitely still in its developing stages and maybe it’s meant to forever be in a state of dynamic change. What is certain is that the future decisions made about net neutrality could impact how we all use and engage with the most powerful communication tool on the planet.
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