Case Study: The Battle over Net Neutrality
- What is network neutrality? Why has the Internet operated under net neutrality up to this point in time?
Network neutrality signifies the idea that all customers must be allowed to access internet equally with respect to the content and applications. According to this idea, internet service providers must not discriminated between different customers when in regards to the source or nature of the content they access. The present status of the net is neutral as we can observe that the content of the internet is provided to each user on first come first serve basis by the internet service providers and the bandwidth backbone owners. Telephone lines are subject to common “carriage laws” that is a traditional pillar of the telecommunications (Noam, 1997). According to this law all phone companies must treat all its customers equal. Modern internet was built on these telephone lines and hence the neutrality law was carried forward to internet use as well. Internet service providers cannot provide unequal services to any one based on cost differences.
- Who’s in favor of net neutrality? Who’s opposed? Why?
There are several groups who support net neutrality. These groups include Christian Coalition of America, American Civil Liberties Union, Gun Owners of America, The American Library Association, Google Inc. and Amazon (Hart, 2011). There are many individual bloggers who support net neutrality. There are some American Senators who also support internet neutrality. The point made by those who support internet neutrality is that if the companies who provide internet services are given the power to discriminate between its different customers and control access to some content on the internet, they will easily be able to enforce censorship. Being able to avoid internet neutrality, small business might not be able to offer speedy download service to their customers as compared to bigger businesses who can pay huge amount for it.
The biggest opponents of internet neutrality are the internet service providers. They argue that they should be able to charge their customers just like electricity and gas utilities companies do, i.e. metered pricing. They want their customers to pay for the amount of bandwidth they consume with the content they use. Some of these companies argue that illegal file sharing of copyrighted online content consume as much as 50% of the content bandwidth. They want to be in control of differential prices for different customers. Rob Hahn who is the co-inventor on the Internet Protocol is also an opponent of net neutrality as he believes that it “removes incentives for network providers to innovate”.
- What would be the impact on individual users, businesses, and government if Internet providers switched to a tiered service model?
Companies who own internet networks argue that the laws and regulations that enforce net neutrality is having a negative impact on the competitiveness of the US economy as it limits the innovation that can be guaranteed by discriminatory network practices. These companies are the ones who are the most beneficial of the non-neutrality of net. These companies can increase their profits by increasing costs for high bandwidth network users. These companies argue that they would utilize this extra profit to innovate and make advancements in the telecommunication sector. They believe that they can design the future of the massive internet traffic handling but one of the factor that is stopping them from doing so is the financial pressure caused by the low profit margins due to net neutrality.
Those who advocate net neutrality argue that it is this neutrality that has allowed an equal opportunity to everyone to innovate. Increased prices of internet due to non-equality will limit the innovation capacity of those who benefit from its equality. Small businesses also believe that they won’t be able to compete with the “big fishes” if the net neutrality is replaced with tired service model.
- Are you in favor of legislation enforcing network neutrality? Why or why not?
I personally believe in net neutrality. I think that there should be legislation that enforce net neutrality. I say it from a perspective of an ordinary internet user. If the neutrality is gone, big companies will be in control of the bandwidth prices and allocation. Only rich and big companies will be able to buy huge bandwidths. Ordinary users will be left with no option but to use slow internet services. This will definitely limit the access to information from average ordinary users who are the backbone of the country’s economy and who get an opportunity to innovate due to net equality. With tired internet model, the high bidders will get their hands on fast internet. Small businesses will be left behind in these bids to high speed due to their limited financial resources. New entrepreneurs will have a little chance to stand in the presence of already established huge corporates.