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RealClearPolitics - Articles - Ken Yarmosh

Last Build Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2006 08:30:29 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Net Neutrality is More than Meets the Eye

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 08:30:29 -0600

In consideration of this definition, to this point network neutrality has essentially been a guiding principle of the Internet. Network providers like Verizon or Qwest have not "discriminated" against different types of network traffic - they have not prioritized content of one site or one content provider over another. Internet users can access websites and content from Google and Yahoo! on equal terms. But without the principle of network neutrality in place, how that content gets served might vary based on how much these and other companies were willing to pay. Telcos like Verizon argue that they should be able to control how their networks operate. They are the ones investing billions of dollars into network infrastructure. When Yahoo! offers users streaming video that is bandwidth intensive, Verizon sees higher traffic and network use but not necessarily higher profits. They want to change that and pricing their service at different levels - 'discriminating' network traffic - is their answer. Both sides are hitting the streets hard with their message. And both are equally guilty of playing upon the public's fears and emotions. Network neutrality advocates continually harp on the potential violations of freedom of speech that could occur in a non-network neutral environment. They believe that without legislated network neutrality, telcos could filter or give preferential treatment to certain content through pricing options. That might include only allowing access to the political or religious content of the highest bidder. But considering how closely the FEC examined free speech and the use of blogs and the Internet in the electoral process, for example, it's probable that such concerns are unwarranted. Equally doubtful is that legislated network neutrality would somehow "deprive parents of new technologies they may use to protect their families from online harm." That quote comes from a letter sent by Senators Sam Brownback and Jim DeMint to their colleagues. The premise of this argument and others like it is that network neutrality legislation (i.e., government regulation) would stifle innovation. In the case of the Senators' letter, besides that quote being somewhat of a scare tactic, their particular assumptions are not correct. The applications and technologies that protect families online sit on top of network pipes. Net neutrality proponents focus on the network not the applications. Parents can rest assured that legislated network neutrality would not somehow make the net any more unsafe than it already is. In general, the principle of network neutrality is what has allowed the Internet to be as innovative as it has been. But to reiterate, network neutrality has been a guiding principle of the Internet to this point in its history. It hasn't been called 'network neutrality' until recently. Christopher Yoo, a Vanderbilt University law professor often referenced by opponents of network neutrality legislation, writes that there is a crucial difference between the end-to-end argument (his preference over the term 'network neutrality') being a design principle versus a regulatory mandate - "circumstances do exist in which mandating network neutrality would actually harm competition." The current policy statement that the FCC adopted on August 5, 2005 confirms four net neutral type principles to "preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet." They've shown that they are willing to back them up too. Thus, in order for a non-network neutral Internet to actually exist, either a huge policy shift would need to occur or it would have to be legislated, just as network neutrality as a regulatory mandate would have to be. History would prove that the government does not do a good job regulating telecom issues. Just look at what happened on January 1, 1984 and then just over 21-years later on January 31, 2005. The first date represents when AT&T was broken up into seven Regional Bell Operating Companies, due to its monopoly over the local and long distance telephone market. The [...]