The importance of net neutrality
On Tuesday, the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules on net neutrality.
The guidelines, which were approved by a narrow party-line vote, drew
immediate criticism from both Internet access providers and consumer
But first, what is net neutrality and why does it matter?In
simple terms, net neutrality means that the people who provide you with
Internet access – the telecom giants, the cable companies, the
satellite providers – must do so without favoring one particular web
site or company over another. Everything should be accessible in the
same way and at the same speed.
Let’s look at an example to see
why this matters. Say you’ve just launched a web site, ABC.com, which
offers reviews of tech products and services. You are very successful
and your web site starts to draw lots of visitors. Another established
tech review web site notices the increased competition and goes to
Verizon and Comcast with a proposal: if the Internet providers will
speed up access to the established site and slow down or block access to
ABC.com, then the established web site will pay them a fat monthly fee.
it may not just be a case of favoring one third party over another.
What if Verizon or Comcast started a tech review site of their own?
Again, they control the speeds and feeds and could seriously hurt the
competition by establishing a fast lane for their own service and a slow
lane for everyone else.
What’s at stake is nothing less than
digital freedom of speech: everyone should enjoy the ability to deliver
and access content without interruption or discrimination.
FCC guidelines, which are not legally binding, concentrate on three
broad principles: transparency, no blocking, and no unreasonable
The transparency rule applies to fixed and
wireless networks. Providers must disclose their network management
practices, network performance and characteristics, and the commercial
terms of their broadband services. This, the FCC hopes, will ensure that
consumers have the information they need to understand the services
that are being offered.
As far as the no-blocking rule is
concerned, fixed network providers may not block lawful content,
services, and applications, and they cannot charge providers of these
services simply for delivering traffic to and from the network. There is
an exemption for wireless carriers, in that they are able to
discriminate in favor of their own applications. (Think V CAST Apps,
Finally, fixed broadband providers cannot unreasonably discriminate against lawful network traffic.
FCC guidelines are just the first baby steps on a road that is sure to
be long and tortuous. The rules, which were a clear attempt at
compromise between the carriers and content providers, predictably
satisfied no-one. They were also met with derision by the free-market
law-makers that are set to dominate the next session of Congress.
But net neutrality is an important debate that we can’t shy away from. The future of the Internet depends on it.
What’s your opinion on net neutrality? Do the rules go too far or not far enough?
Comment by Andy Anderson, posted 12/23/2010, 11:29 AM:
I hope your analysis of the new rules is correct - I've heard more than one interpretation, but I've not read them so I can't comment on that. If you're correct, then the new rules are a good thing. To my mind, the root of the problem is that the ISPs are all de facto monopolies; the barrier to entry into the market is very high, and the time to make a profit can be long. This also seems to me to be a good example of an economic "neighborhood effect" where regulation is prudent.