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Why Net Neutrality is Important

by on Aug.20, 2010, under life, technology, thoughts

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post about Net Neutrality. For those of you who know me personally, you should know that I’m a very strong supporter of Net Neutrality, and believe it’s very important that we make sure the Internet is kept neutral. However, for whatever reason, there are a LOT of misconceptions about Net Neutrality, and what exactly it entails. Since Net Neutrality in reaction to Comcast has once again come up in the news recently, I figured I should write a blog post about the subject.

First, let’s go into some background on the Comcast case. A year or so ago, Comcast decided that its network was beingcongestedby too much P2P traffic; namely, traffic from the BitTorrent P2P protocol. So, they decided that they would clear their network of this congestion by carefully denying BitTorrent connections. They did this by looking into the traffic that BitTorrent was sending over the network, and sending back false information so that connections to peers would fail. The actual details of how this was done is outside the point of this post.

After some outrage from Comcast customers who used BitTorrent, the FCC decided it would step in and tell Comcast to stop or suffer consequences. As soon as this happened, there was some question about whether or not the FCC actually had the power to do this. But, the case went to court and a judge decided that the FCC did have the power to do this, and that Comcast had to stop denying BitTorrent connections in this way. This was a major win for users of the Internet: the court decision basically meant that your ISP can’t deny you from accessing information on the Internet.

However, the case was appealed by Comcast because that’s just the way the US legal system works. The appeals court reversed the decision of the first court, and decided the FCC did not have this power, which is true. Currently, the FCC does not have power to do anything about network management on the Internet. Because of this, their decision to sanction Comcast for shaping the network was not allowed by any law. So, the clear answer to this conundrum is to have Congress pass a law which would give the FCC this power, right?

In my opinion, yes. This is the essence of Net Neutrality: give the FCC the power to force ISPs to be neutral, that is, to allow users to access any website, with any protocol. This is the current spirit of the Internet: that anyone can access any part of it, and that it’s easy for someone to create a new site that becomes an overnight sensation. The idea of an open Internet is not possible without Net Neutrality. So, why hasn’t this been an issue in the past?

Probably because it’s never needed to be an issue. As users start using more bandwidth, ISPs are looking for ways to get more money. If there is no law forcing the net to be neutral, then ISPs can manage their network however they want. Let’s say, for example, that your ISP partners with Google and Wikipedia. Your ISP’s basic package will allow you to access these two sites. Want to use Bing, or Yahoo!? That’ll be an extra $20 a month. Want to access any website you want? It’ll cost you. We’ve created a situation where innovation is stifled on the greatest frontier for innovation.

One of the great things that has come out of the Internet is small businesses. A small business can easily create a website with a good product, and become big. Without Net Neutrality, this becomes very difficult. A small business would first have to give some money to your ISP in order for you to be able to get to their site. But, remember that there are multiple ISPs, and the small business would have to pay all of them to reach all their potential customers.

It’s possible, however, that competition wouldn’t allow this to happen. One ISP would have to be “the first” to implement a pricing scheme like this. If consumers voted with their dollars and switched ISP if this happened, then ISPs everywhere would be sent a message that this is no way to run a business. Unfortunately, however, I have a feeling that most people would just go along with it without knowing any better. After all, the big sites that people actually use would be able to afford the fees an ISP would put on them to get to their user base.

So, what do we do? Check out http://www.savetheinternet.com/ . Find out what net neutrality really means, and join the fight to keep the net neutral!

[Note: I had originally written this post on April 11. I think it’s finished, and reading over it, it does seem finished. I’m really not sure why I never published it. Perhaps I was going to add more… I just don’t remember now! Oh, well… better late than never. News since this post: Google and Verizon’s Net Neutrality proposal has many outraged. I haven’t looked into it much, but I’ll see if I can poke around it a bit more and write a post about my thoughts.]

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1 Comment for this entry

  • Neal Heatherly

    Yeah, the Google and Verizon thing’s big. Basically, they’re partnering to do exactly what you said: create a separate, premium cost Internet. But I think the fact that people are outraged shows that more people care and understand the issue than you thought, hopefully enough for everyone involved and watching to see that it’s no way to run a business.

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