Net Neutrality: Three Commentaries from the Week

Net neutrality has been in the news this week because of Google’s and Verizon’s attempt to take matters into their own hands. (I know that my phrasing, “take matters into their own hands,” is pejorative. See the Note at the End.)

Now that that’s out of the way, I read three columns this morning that I found interesting. Anyone interested in a quick primer on the subject could get one by reading these three pieces.

Jemima Kiss, in the Guardian, defines net neutrality and rounds up the arguments for and against it. Here is her definition:

Net neutrality is the principle that all internet traffic – content, platforms, and websites – should be treated equally by the networks that deliver them.

The internet today is, mostly, a level playing field. We pay a fee to have access to the internet. Web services pay to host their content and to for that content to be accessible. And internet service providers pay for the bit in between – the connection.

What telecoms firms want is the right for companies to pay a premium to have their content delivered faster than rival content, or to establish new layer of faster internet on which to to serve paying, premium services.

That would leave non-commercial sites on a poorer, slower web where they would find it harder to attract readers – changing the democratic nature of the internet. It would also mean poorer users, or those in the developing world, would find it harder to access the “full” internet experience.

Mehan Jayasuriya in the Guardian foresees a tiered internet:

The internet was designed to respect the so-called “end-to-end” principle, which places control at the ends of the network with users and ensures that all traffic is treated equally. The upholding of this principle has come to be known as “net neutrality”, which has been the status quo for as long as the internet has existed. But as the internet has grown to become the 21st century’s most powerful engine for economic growth, internet service providers (ISPs), the middlemen of the internet, have begun greedily eyeing the web, hoping to wring additional fees out of users and content providers alike by instituting a tiered system similar to that of pay TV.

At Boomberg, Rich Jaroslovsky looks at the agreement between Google and Verizon. He doesn’t like it much:

On its face, the proposal from the two companies over so- called net neutrality rules is just a declaration of principles they hope will influence future government policy making.

The truth is, it represents a massive defection by Google from the cause of assuring a level playing field for providers of online content and services — a cause that has been accepted as an article of faith from the Net’s earliest days, and one of the keys to its explosive growth. And it will lead to an Internet that is more stultifying for businesses and consumers.

Note at the End:

My view–and I emphasise that it is mine; I don’t know what the view of anyone else at Geekazine may be–on net neutrality is simple: ISPs should serve as pipelines, not as filters. They should not favor one producer’s content over another’s. “Net neutrality” is an issue of public policy and should be considered in the light of the public good; it is not a question of industrial policy and should not be influenced by stock prices.


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