Thursday, March 20, 2008

Network Neutrality: Part 1


This concept was started back in 1860 when a US federal law stated that "… messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority. - An act to facilitate communication between the Atlantic and Pacific states by electric telegraph June 16, 1860"

Fast forward to today, as recent as March 17th, 2008, in a blog posted by Jonathan Rintels in the website for the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, he describes thoroughly the latest development in the battle between the two sides debating the regulation and governance of the Internet (http://www.savetheinternet.com/blog/). Right now the FCC has claimed the jurisdiction over the issue by defining the guiding rules that expects the telecommunications industry to go by. On February 11th, 2008 Rep. Ed Markey and Rep Chip Pickering introduced HR5353: "To establish broadband policy and direct the FCC to conduct a proceeding and public broadband summit to business competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services, and for other purposes."

So let's start with defining Network Neutrality.

There are many sources in the net that defines what is Network Neutrality. The different shades of meaning are naturally colored by the point of view of the party. Here is Googles's definition (Google is a member of the Open Internet Coalition):

Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days. Indeed, it is this neutrality that has allowed many companies, including Google, to launch, grow, and innovate. Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to usert heir market power to discribimnate against competing applications or content. Just a telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online. Today the neutrality of the Internet is at stake as the broadband carriers want Congress's permission to determine what content get to you first and fastest. Put simply, this would fundamentally alter the openness of the Internet" (www.google.com/help/netneutrality.html)

Wikipedia offers a broader definition of the term Network Neutrality (aka: Net Neutrality, Internet Neutrality; NN.) It defines it by three characteristics of: Absolute Non-discrimination; Limited Discrimination without QoS (Quality of Service) Tiering; and Limited Discrimination & Tiering. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_neutrality)

On the last day that the FCC was accepting comments on the proceeding, the major telecom companies (AT&T, Verizon & Time Warner Cable) countered that the regulation intended to ensure net neutrality will impede the growth of innovation of the Internet. AT&T launched an attack on Google by making a comparison: "It would be wholly arbitrary to regulate Comcast's purported 'traffic shaping' but not the content-shaping practices of Google within the search and online advertising markets it monopolizes."

(Note 1: Comcast: The case about Comcast is it was found to have interfere with file transfers. "TorrentFreak said in August that Comcast was surreptitiously interfering with file transfers by posing as one party and then, essentially, hanging up the phone. But when we contacted Comcast at the time, it flatly denied doing it. (http://www.news.com/8301-13578_3-9800629-38.html)

I'm introducing this topic in two parts as it's a broad and complicated issue that affects all of us in some aspect of our life. I heard the discussion on the radio one evening during my commute from the office. It stewed in the back of my mind since mid-February, and I hadn't had a chance to thoroughly formulate a solid opinion on where I stand. The proponents advocating for net neutrality speak convincingly, because it touches on the individual's right to choose freely. However, I also need to step back and listen to the other arguments. I've given some sources that I'm checking into and I hope you'd do the same to help you decide where you stand on the issue.

-Analyn Revilla

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