Thursday, December 18th 2014
 

Net Neutrality – The Great Debate Continues

What is this “net neutrality” banter over anyway?

Net neutrality refers to the concept that Internet users should have unfettered access to content and services on the web. The policy holds that all content should be treated equally. With net neutrality in place the only job of the network is to move data — without discriminating which data to privilege with better service and which to slow or degrade.

How it began.

The issue of net neutrality began in 2005 when then CEO of AT&T, Edward Whiteacre, Jr., expressed his belief that Google was getting a “free ride” on AT&T’s network. He declared the only way the situation could be rectified was to charge companies, who already pay for bandwidth, to ensure their traffic reaches AT&T consumers at the speed to which they have become accustomed. Net neutrality resurfaced in 2007 with the actions of Comcast when it interfered with the file-sharing service, BitTorrent. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) issued an order for Comcast to stop throttling BitTorrent traffic. The Commission based the order on a set of net neutrality principles it adopted in 2005. Comcast argued the order was not legal because the FCC sought to enforce policy principles that lack the force of regulations or law. Comcast brought a suit against the FCC in January of 2010.

Recent developments.

On Tuesday, April 6, 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruled unanimously that the FCC “failed to tie its assertion” of regulatory authority to an actual law enacted by Congress. “The agency does not have the power to regulate an Internet provider’s network management practices,” wrote Judge David Tatel. The court did not, however, strip the Commission of all authority over internet service providers; it simply stated that the FCC didn’t have the right to dictate how a service provider manages its network. The ruling certainly does not mean the death of net neutrality, the national broadband plan,  or spectrum reform. As Ben Scott, the policy director for the public interest group, Free Press, put it:

“Today’s court decision invalidated the prior commission’s approach to preserving an open Internet…But the court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.”

Current state of affairs.

Following the ruling on April 6th the FCC received comments from both sides of the lively debate seeking to either challenge or endorse the FCC’s legal authority to enforce net neutrality. The Open Internet Coalition, with Google and Facebook among its members, is one of the advocates for net neutrality. The Coalition and other advocates acted with a heightened sense of urgency following the April 6th ruling. In a statement from the Open Internet Coalition, its executive director, Markham Erickson said:

“Post-Comcast v. FCC, consumers lack any protection against violations of the Internet Policy Statement, or against discriminatory treatment of content or applications over broadband providers’ networks.”

Google, the foremost in industry support for net neutrality, made the following statement in its filing:

“In particular, the FCC should not allow a handful of broadband network operators to utilize their unique market and network control over consumer access to the Internet in ways that harm users, impede competition or undermine the growth of Internet-based activities.”

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the principal lobby for the cable industry, submitted its argument against what it refers to as “artificial distinction” between ISPs and companies that deliver Internet services and content. In the words of the NCTA, the two are cohabitants of the same ecosystem. Based on this reasoning the NCTA argued that net neutrality regulations, if enacted, would extend beyond ISPs to cover both companies like Akamai, a company that provides the computing platform for Internet content and application delivery, and application providers like Google and other “principal gatekeepers” to content. Large ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon argue that they have spent billions of dollars on their networks and should be allowed to sell services and manage their networks to ensure certain applications don’t hog the capacity. These opponents of net neutrality argue that sites like BitTorrent are using an out-sized portion of network capacity and should not be permitted to do so at no cost. All parties, proponents and opponents alike, look to the FCC, waiting for it to take action. Three possibilities seem most probable. The FCC can:

  1. Lobby Congress to grant them explicit authority to regulate broadband.
  2. Appeal the decision made on April 6, 2010 by the U.S. Court of Appeals
  3. Reclassify broadband as a “telecommunication service” over which the Commission already has the authority.

The Commission has not given any information as to its next step, but provides assurance it remains committed to the principle of net neutrality. It seems that most individual consumers favor maintaining the status quo, where traffic on the Internet is treated in a neutral fashion and ISPs don’t try to enrich themselves by meddling with the speed of service for different sites. The question comes down to what measures we are willing to take to ensure the Internet stays the way it is.

How to get involved and voice your opinion.

  • For more information about the fight for a free, open and neutral Net and how you can get involved, visit SavetheInternet.com.
  • Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, says: “Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Please call your representative (202-224-3121) and let your voice be heard.”
  • For more information about the fight against net neutrality and how to get involved, visit stopthecap.com. To say no to net neutrality, visit reasonforliberty.com.

Posted by Jenn on April 30, 2010 at 11:40am.

4 Responses to “Net Neutrality – The Great Debate Continues”

  1. avatar Bryan says:

    Very informative….

  2. avatar robin says:

    excellent post! :)

  3. avatar Becky says:

    Have you seen these ads set to come out?

    http://consumerist.com/2010/05/anti-net-neutrality-ads-hit-airwaves.html

    Interesting, no?

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