Net Neutrality – Should We Care?

Net Neutrality Logo

By Original by en:Camilo Sanchez (talk) 18:46, 19 July 2008 (UTC), vector version by Jeff Dahl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 Internet providers can prioritise certain types of web traffic over others, an American court has ruled. Why should Americans care? Moreover, why should the rest of the world care either? This short video from the Washington Post succinctly sums it up. In essence, the way this court has ruled means that certain content can be given preferential bandwidth over other content by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). An ISP could slow down access to or even block web content that it deems contrary to its shareholders or bottom line (read: content critical of that ISP). If an ISP has a web-streaming service it could hobble its subscribers’ network speed accessing a competitor’s product. Or, it could severely impede or block access to news items critical of some action the ISP or its partners have taken.

The concept of a neutral network has been around since the 1860 but its application to the Internet was popularized in 2003 by Tim Wu of Columbia Law School in a paper titled, Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination [from]. Since then, opinions have coalesced into two camps, one for net neutrality and the other against, but both confusingly seeming to say the same thing that the Internet should free and open. The main difference revolves around whether or not the government should be intervening on how ISPs should manage their network.

Why should anyone care about Net Neutrality? In the end, how the Internet will function in the future will depend on what decisions are made today. Corporations are amoral and will act, via their human intermediaries, in the interest of profit and nothing else. It makes sense for a corporation to want as little outside regulation of its activities as possible. Shaping the traffic to maximize profit (e.g. giving preferential treatment to web content that pays to be promoted) and minimizing negative publicity makes perfect sense from the point of view of a for-profit organization. However, society should be designed for the benefit of the average person. If some version of Net Neutrality is not in place we risk losing the essential character of what makes the Internet such a good place for innovation and creativity. Sure, a lot of the Internet is porn and pictures of cats but there is also a lot of great content waiting to be explored for free! Interacting with that content may inspire someone to create something amazing. I think that alone should spur on someone to care.

Indeed, this is a ruling within the jurisdiction of the United States and currently doesn’t affect ISPs based outside the US. However, many countries look at the US as a model for their rules governing the Internet and many of the ISP within the US have a footprint in other countries. Changes to the way the United States manages Internet access will have an impact in other countries who will either follow their lead or be pressured to do so. Net Neutrality needs defending if we want to keep the Internet free and open as intended from its creation.

One comment

  1. […] related back to my previous post: NET NEUTRALITY – SHOULD WE CARE? I’m not sure I completely approve of the bombastic title (Internet Apocalypse?) and image […]

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