This is a very important issue. Net neutrality is essential to maintaining the freedom of speech.
Unfortunaltelly, this issue often gets confused and muddled… A clarification is needed.
‘Net Neutrality’ is the principle that it is the user who legitimately pays for the use of the internet OUGHT TO be the one who decides on the content, application or platform of their choice, without artificial limits imposed by either governments or by the internet access providers. Here is a quote from Wikipedia on three different definitions of ‘net neutrality’:
Absolute Non-Discrimination: Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu: “Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.”
Google’s “Guide to Net Neutrality”: “Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days… Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.”
Cardozo Law School professor Susan Crawford states that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regard for quality of service considerations.
It does not mean that internet access should be free of charge, rather, it should be free of restrictions.
Let me give you a real life example: There is an internet provider in my geographic location that is a large company with many divisions. One of the divisions is an ISP (Internet Service Provider). Another division rents movies. Then they started a third division, which provides digital phone service.
As an avid internet user, I paid for the ‘highest’ level of internet access possible – ‘unlimited bandwidth’. No, it is not cheap – but I do not begrudge my ISP a healthy profit, IF they provide me with excellent service.
Now, there came a time when a real-life legitimate company opened an online movie rental service. It is all proper, above the board, royalties are paid and all that – we are not talking about pirated content here. How do they distribute the movies? Via BitTorrents!
At about this time, surprisingly enough, my ISP provider begun ‘trafic management practies’ which effectively blocked ALL BitTorrent communications!
Their argument was that they, as the provider, had the right to ‘regulate traffic’. The fact that the means through which they chose to do this effectively prevented me (and any other customer) from using the internet service purchased from their ISP division fromlegitimately conducting business with a direct competitor of their ‘movie rental’ division’ – well, that was just accidental….. Yeah, right!
But the timing was even more curious than that! At this time, they also introduced their ‘Digital Phone’ service – something which required quite a bit of bandwidth. Yet, they had not really built extra capacity in – that would cost money…. So, by limiting my access (along with that of many other users), they have, in effect, ‘freed up’ the capacity to introduce their phone service without any major start-up costs!
My son uses BitTorrents for gaming – and has not been able to partake of it at all since these ‘traffic management’ measures have been introduced. I cannot purchase a legal service from my ISP’s competitor. And, I have found out, that my ‘unlimited’ access is only good until I reach a certain limit: yet my ISP will NOT TELL ME WHAT THAT LIMIT IS!!! Until I reach it, of course, and find myself without access for the rest of the month…..
Frankly, I do not think this is a good way to treat one’s customers. Yet, the companies who own the ‘internet pipeline’ are few and many are related. There is a real danger that they may adopt ‘industry-wide practices’ which severly limit the rights of their users.
From there, it is only a small step to controlling not just the protocols and applications, but also the content of the internet. And where a State might not be legally able to curb a point of view, an internet provider might have the means and ability. And, if they claim they fear a lawsuit should they allow certain content through, who is to stop them from censoring free speech?
Today, there was a rally for support of ‘Net Neutrality’. For those of us who get much of our news this way, it is an issue worth thinking about.
It has always appeared to me that the best way to protect the freedom of the many is to protect the freedom of the one.