Net neutrality has been an issue which has been underplayed over the past few years. Net neutrality, a network design principle, aspires that all content and data is treated equally (Wu). Ever since its creation, the Internet has been neutral, but with the advent of new technologies this neutrality has been threatened (Anderson). Today, the Internet is one of the most important means of communication. It’s neutrality is crucial to all aspects of society. No corporation, government, or individual should be allowed to censor public networks.
“Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.”
– Vinton Cerf in testimony before Congress February 7, 2006
As technology has improved it has become increasingly easy and cheap for governments, corporations and individuals to censor the internet. Today the most popular operating systems come with parental controls that allow individuals to censor their internet (Microsoft). Corporations use firewalls to filter the content that their employees are viewing and some governments censor the Internet in their country. The lower cost of content filtering technology is not the only culprit causing Internet Service Providers (ISP) to turn against net neutrality principles. The rise of bandwidth intensive applications such as Voice over IP (VoIP), IPTV, and video streaming have caused large spikes in bandwidth usage in recent year. ISPs claim that companies like Google, Skype, YouTube, and Amazon are freeloading on their networks. (Mohammed)
ISP’s have been trying to setup a tiered pricing scheme, similar to that in Fig. 1., since they started feeling pressure from increased bandwidth usage. Time Warner cable tried creating a tiered system with 4 different bandwidth caps, 5, 10, 20, 40 GB per month. If one were to go over the limit one would be charged one dollar for each gigabyte. Time Warner tested this strategy in cities in Texas but decided to scrap the plan after public outcries. Currently, Comcast has a 250GB per month cap. Customers who go over the limit get a warning phone call from Comcast and if there is any further overages their subscription would be canceled (Lowry).
Currently, network neutrality is part of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) jurisdiction. This is because Congress has yet to implement any laws specifically for net neutrality. The FCC has set four principles to what consumers are entitled to with an Internet service (Hansell).
- Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice; (Federal Communications Commission)
- Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; (Federal Communications Commission)
- Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network (Federal Communications Commission)
- Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers. (Federal Communications Commission)
The most important ruling on net neutrality came on August 1st 2008 the FCC voted 3 to 2 to uphold a complaint against Comcast. The ruling stated that Comcast had illegally prevented users on it’s high-speed broadband service from using the file-sharing software called Bittorrent. Comcast was ordered to seize and desist all blocking of the software. Kevin J. Martin, the commission’s chairman, said the order was meant to set a precedent that Internet providers, and indeed all communications companies, could not keep customers from using their networks the way they see fit unless there is a acceptable reason. (Hansell)
Around the world, many countries and/or corporations censor and discriminate data that pass through their networks. In Germany, T-Mobile blocks Skype (AssoProvider). In South Korea VoIP is blocked except when the ISP is the VoIP provider. China has a long history of censoring the internet. It attempts to block information criticizing the communist party (Lum). The European Union has been diligently working on laws to regulate ISP from taking steps against net neutrality
Network Neutrality is imperative to the U.S. economy. John Deighton and John Quelch , marketing professors at Harvard Business School, conducted a study to quantify the economic impact of the internet.
- Employment value. The internet employs 1.2 million people directly to conduct advertising and commerce, build and maintain the infrastructure and facilitate its use. Each internet job supports approximately 1.54 additional jobs elsewhere in the economy, for a total of 3.05 million, or roughly two percent, of employed Americans. The dollar value of their wages is about $300 billion, or around two percent of U.S. GDP. (Deighton)
- Payments value. The direct economic value the internet provides to the rest of the U. S. economy is estimated at $175 billion. It comprises $20 billion of advertising services, $85 billion of retail transactions (net of cost of goods) and $70 billion of direct payments to internet service providers. In addition, the internet indirectly generates economic activity that takes place elsewhere in the economy. If one used the same multiplier as for employment, 1.54, then the advertising-supported Internet creates annual value of $444 billion. (Deighton)
- Time value. At work and at leisure, about 190 million people in the United States spend, on average, 68 hours a month on the internet. A conservative valuation of this time is an estimated $680 billion. (Deighton)
As one can see the internet is a very large part of the economy. The only reason that it has thrived so quickly is that it has been an open platform. Small businesses have been able to grow into some of the largest, most influential, and stable companies. Everyday there are hundreds if not thousands of new businesses popping up creating many jobs.
Internet Service Providers (ISP) claim that prioritization of bandwidth is necessary for future innovation on the Internet. Their think is that they have no incentive to make large investments in developing fiber-optic networks, even thought they are heavily subsidized by with public funds (Mohammed). President Obama has stated that he is pro net neutrality (Obama). During the creation of the broadband stimulus plan, Obama made sure that net neutrality was built into the package (Obama). The addition of net neutrality in the broadband stimulus plan hints to ISPs, that even though congress has not passed any specific laws against network discrimination a large part of government officials are against it.
The internet plays a crucial role in the life of most people and has changed the way we communicate. Even though consumer awareness is limited, the U.S. Government has taken some steps in preventing ISPs from acting against network neutrality principles. The internet must remain open and neutral. No government agency, corporation or individual should be allowed to censor the internet. Doing so would strip us of our most important freedom. Freedom of Speech.
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