I started writing this entry a few weeks ago. The deeper I delved into the topic, the more complex the entry became. Eventually I just kind of gave up since most of the arguments for and against net neutrality appear to be waged by special interest groups. However, I was watching the Daily Show last night, and found Jon Stewart’s “report” on Ted Steven’s comments on the Net Neutrality debate and thought I’d have another go at it…
So what is this net neutrality thing anyway? Without delving too much into network engineering, the Internet is a series of fiber lines layed out by telecommunication companies and are commonly called “pipes” (or tubes in Sen. Steven’s parlance). When you sign up for your home Internet access though an Internet service provider, you basically pay them to access all of the wonder that is the Internet. As the Internet has grown in popularity over the years, some very smart folks have developed new ways of leveraging the Internet to do things other than surf websites and send email. The telecommunication companies that own the lines that this traffic travels over want to essentially tier access to the Internet to allow them to recoop their investments for burying these lines and encourage future network development. They would charge premiums to ensure a quality of service for these sites, in essence making sites that paid a premium “faster” than sites who are in the second tier.
It’s odd to see how businesses are lining up on this issue. Not surprisingly, big telecommunication companies like Verizon and AT&T are on one side citing the current congressional debate is odd since “it amounts to holding a congressional vote on hypothetical business plans” (see Net neutrality debate still simmers). On the other side, companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft (and the ALA for that matter) are lining up to oppose this move from the telecommication companies. These companies argue that if the telecommunication companies control what you are able to view and which tools you are able to do that with, the innovation that has marked the Internet as such an important tool will be stifled.
I’ve heard different people argue for, and against, net neutrality. I think the one that has impressed me the most was a discussion that involved one of the lead project managers for Internet2. For those who don’t know, Internet2 is an ultrafast network between research universities. One application of Internet2 is to transferr exceptionally large datasets (in the tens of thousounds of gigabytes) to supercomputers for analysis. They actually looked at tiering existing networks, but could not find a cost-effective way to do so. They actually found that creating an ultrafast network (100GB/sec) was more cost effective than trying to tier their information. The counter-argument was that the government shouldn’t regulate business plans…if large companies want to figure out its most cost effective to run fiber to individual houses than it is to tier network traffic, let them.
Anyway, here are some sites I found that may be of some interest: