Net Neutrality: Preserving the Free Internet
- Sat 29 Dec 2007 at 11:15
The Internet as We Know It
The Internet has always been seen as a frontier - open and free for everyone. The level playing field of the Internet allows the smallest businesses to compete with the largest businesses, with neither having a network-based advantage. The frontier concept is the basis of net neutrality. It allows for the maximum amount of competition on the Internet. For instance, Google, the most popular search engine currently, started out in the dorm rooms of two young entrepreneurs ("Google Milestones (external link)," pars. 2-5), competing with the massive web portals and search engines of the dotcom boom. Google rose to the top because its service was better. Net neutrality allowed Google to dominate because everyone was competing at an equal level. If net neutrality had not been in effect at the time, the online giants would have been able to pay to be on the faster Internet tier, and while their search results were not as good, they would have been able to beat out Google simply because their service was faster. Without net neutrality, situations like Google's will cease to exist. Larger corporations would be able to pay out large sums of money simply unavailable to startups for faster web services, giving them a huge, unfair advantage over their new-to-the-market competition (Free Press Action Fund (external link)). Henceforth, the competition on the Internet would no longer be based on quality, but on money.
Currently, the Internet enjoys the most free speech amongst all the other content mediums. Without net neutrality, the telcos would also be able to censor any form of content, despite its legality ("Net Neutrality Debate Remains Contentious," par. 7). They could block the websites of competitors, political opponents, labour unions, and more, which has already been seen in the cases involving Madison River Communications, Telus, AOL, and Shaw Communications (Free Press Action Fund (external link)). The freedom of speech everyone currently enjoys on the Internet would be jeopardised.
Failure of the Free Market
In normal circumstances, the free market would eliminate the threat of a tiered Internet. However, the broadband market in the US does not have enough competition to eliminate the problem. Most areas in the US have only one broadband provider. Even large cities, such as New York City, have a maximum of only two to three broadband providers (Rocketboom (external link)).
Opposition to Net Neutrality
The telcos main opposition to net neutrality is that they need the additional funds a tiered Internet would provide in order to improve network infrastructure (Lawrence (external link), par. 6). Currently, our country's network infrastructure is lagging behind other countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Singapore ("The Global Information Technology Report (external link)"), so the idea of raising funds to bring us up to par with other countries sounds like a good idea. However, these funds need not come from a tiered Internet. Companies do not have free, unlimited access to the Internet's network; they pay for the bandwidth they use on the network (Wood (external link), par. 5). The more data they transfer, the more they pay. The telcos could easily fund network expansion by charging companies more for bandwidth. Charing more for bandwidth would not violate the net neutrality principle and it would allow for the telcos to fund network expansion. Furthermore, researchers at the University of Florida discovered that the incentive for broadband providers to expand their infrastructure would actually decline without net neutrality ("Net Neutrality Debate Remains Contentious," par. 16).
Politicians' main opposition to net neutrality legislation is that they are simply against regulation of any kind, including regulation of the Internet. They want the free market to provide a neutral net, without being mandated by law (NetCompetition.org (external link)). What they do not understand is that due to the lack of competition in the broadband market, the free market does not have the ability to provide net neutrality. Mandating net neutrality by law would ensure the continued openness of the Internet. Countries that have mandated net neutrality, such as Japan and South Korea, have much more competition in the broadband market, which drives up broadband speeds and lowers prices. In Japan a megabit costs on average 75 cents and in South Korea a megabit costs even less at 73 cents. However, in the US a megabit costs $6.10 on average (Chester (external link), par. 9). Even further, while nearly half of the broadband connections in the US are under 2.5 megabits per second, in Japan and in South Korea they are releasing 100 megabit per second broadband services (Free Press Action Fund (external link)).
Net neutrality opponents claim that net neutrality would stifle technological innovation (Cleland, par. 15). They argue that without the ability to be guaranteed higher network speeds, people are less likely to design innovative technologies using the Internet ("Net Neutrality Debate Remains Contentious," par. 9). However, all of the innovations based upon the Internet would not have happened if the net was not neutral. A good example of how a neutral network allows for innovation is the electric grid. It "does not care if you plug in a toaster, an iron, or a computer." It supplies power to every object connected to it, showing no favour to certain brands of appliances or to certain homes, allowing people to build products using electricity for power that are based on quality, not whether their product can be powered or not. For instance, "the electric grid [that] worked for the radios of the 1930s works for the flat screen TVs of the 2000s" ("Net Neutrality Debate Remains Contentious," par. 4).
Mandating net neutrality via legislation will ensure that the Internet remains open for our posterity. Net neutrality is the principle foundation that helps drive innovation and protect free speech on the Internet. Without it, the future of the Internet will be in the hands of the telecommunication companies, instead of in the hands of consumers.
- Barton, Joseph L. United States. Cong. House. Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006. 109th Cong., 2nd sess. HR 5252. 17 May 2006. 20 Apr. 2007.
- Broache, Anne. "Net Neutrality Field in Congress Gets Crowded." CNET News.Com 19 May 2006. 25 Apr. 2007 <http://news.com.com/2100-1028_3-6074564.html (external link)>.
- Chester, Jeffrey. "Congress Poised to Unravel the Internet." The Nation 18 Aug. 2006. 28 Apr. 2007 <http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060828/internet_bill (external link)>.
- Cleland, Scott. "America's Unique Internet Success." The Washington Times 1 Mar. 2007. 22 Mar. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com (external link)>.
- Free Press Action Fund, comp. Save the Internet. 2007. 20 Mar. 2007 <http://www.savetheinternet.com/ (external link)>.
- Geist, Michael. "Towards a Two-Tier Internet." BBC News 22 Dec. 2005. 20 Apr. 2007 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4552138.stm (external link)>.
- The Global Information Technology Report. World Economic Forum, 2007. 3 Apr. 2007 <http://www.weforum.org (external link)>.
- "Google Milestones." Google. 28 Apr. 2007 <http://www.google.com/corporate/history.html (external link)>.
- Hands Off the Internet. 3 Apr. 2007 <http://www.handsoff.org/ (external link)>.
- Lawrence, Cameron. "Net Neutrality Primer." HowStuffWorks. 17 July 2007. 22 Mar. 2007 <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/net-neutrality-news.htm (external link)>.
- NetCompetition.Org. 3 Apr. 2007 <http://www.netcompetition.org (external link)>.
- "Net Neutrality Debate Remains Contentious." Information Week. 2 Apr. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com (external link)>.
- Out-Law.com, comp. "AT&T Reluctantly Adopts Net Neutrality." The Register. 9 Jan. 2007. 3 Apr. 2007 <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/01/09/att_net_neutrality/ (external link)>.
- Pc Magazine. "Network Neutrality Definition." PC Magazine. 26 Apr. 2007 <http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=Net+neutrality&i=56873,00.asp (external link)>.
- Rocketboom. 23 Jun. 2006. 16 Apr. 2007 <http://www.rocketboom.com/stories/rb_06_jun_23 (external link)>.
- Snowe, Olympia, and Byron Dorgan. United States. Cong. Senate. Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006. 109th Cong., 2nd sess. S 2917. 19 May 2006. 20 Apr. 2007.
- "Two-Tiered Internet." SearchNetworking.Com. 16 Apr. 2007 <http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/sDefinition/0,,sid7_gci1198106,00.html (external link)>.
- Tyson, Jeff. "How Internet Infrastructure Works." HowStuffWorks. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet-infrastructure.html (external link)>.
- United States. Library of Congress. Library of Congress Thomas. 20 Apr. 2007 <http://thomas.loc.gov/ (external link)>.
- Wood, Molly. "Net Neutrality: Bring It On." CNET. 30 Jan. 2006. 22 Mar. 2007 <http://www.cnet.com/4520-6033_1-6548559-1.html (external link)>.