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Network Neutrality


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This paper looks at the challenges and opportunities of Network Neutrality.

This paper looks at the challenges and opportunities of Network Neutrality.

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  • 1. Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI I. The Key Issues of Net Neutrality The Internet has spawned new and exciting debate over the public trustee model found within broadcast media technologies as applied towards services offered in online environments. While the current cybersphere is largely unregulated, there are both societal and governmental pressures for online organizations to adopt the public trusteeship model and to offer an ever-increasing wide range of services for every consumer need. Net neutrality can and has been defined a number of ways, but essentially refers to the ability to choose selectively among content one desires in online environments. For the public, this means not only the ability, but the right to selectively choose among alternative options. For online service providers, this can mean the ability to distinguish among and offer both qualitative and quantitative content to the public, thus, the application of these abilities have encouraged and inspired healthy debate as to the control of the Internet amidst lax legal, technical, and policy regulations and/or guidelines. In a networked world, network neutrality can be seen as a matter of choice, with content limitations imposed by the online service providers to consumers, and very limited regulatory limitations given to the online service providers. This unbalanced situation has produced a problem of incentives, as online service providers are motivated to provide profit-seeking behaviors rather than that which open the market fully to the benefit of consumers. In this way, the greater picture can be seen as an information asymmetry problem, with the online service provider seen as the principal and the consumer in the role of the agent. The age old principal-agent theory and solution set is one that transcends management science, and can be applied to this situation strictly for the problems of extreme exploitation inherent on the side of the principal, the online service provider [1]. Net neutrality remains defined as the principal who must remain objectively and independently neutral with respect to the manner and means of access and retrieval of Internet content by the consumer. When one party holds an information advantage over another, there is potential for exploitation. For this reason, the government has stepped in to mitigate the risk that the public will bear in industry situations known as the natural monopoly. Auferheide tells us that “in both telecommunications and in mass media, the 1934 (Telecommunications) Act drew on the notion of natural monopoly”, one in which there are no competitors which can duplicate the services offered by the initial player who has earned first mover advantage [2]. On the Internet, this scene plays out as many players congregate, debate, and coalesce as polarizing and conflicting interests within the net neutrality issue. Indeed, in the not-so-distant past “dominant communications and media corporations, especially the largest local phone companies, cable companies, and media conglomerates, spent the early 1990s desperately struggling to increase their size and range and to reposition themselves as front-runners in an era of convergence” [3]. While a natural monopoly does not exist on the Internet currently, there are certainly areas in which this example can be seen as harming the general public interests, especially in the areas of online behavioral marketing, deep packet inspection, and network management. One of the ideas behind network neutrality is that of freedom, that is, freedom of (content) choice and freedom from (content) restrictions. Both online service providers and consumers would like the ability to dictate the manner in which information shares and exchanges occur online, so it is up to the regulators to draft the law and policies in such a manner that no one side unjustly benefits from an information advantage. In other words, online service providers must not be given full monopolistic power to price gauge consumers, and consumers must not unduly impacted. Online service providers must not be given the ability to selectively choose content, nor should consumers be given more rights than the providers. The traffic on the Internet must remain content- neutral with no one side given more power than the other. III. Private and public interests arguments The American Civil Liberties Union maintains that “without Net Neutrality, network providers are free to discriminate” [4]. They cite what they view as bad decisions by both the Federal Communications Commission and the Supreme Court as eliminating basic non-discriminatory practices found within the Communications Act (1934) and further erosion of competition in the marketplace towards an ever smaller and smaller numbers of service providers. In July of this year, they implored the FCC to consider the unbalanced power between the
  • 2. Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI gatekeepers (service providers) who can discriminate and target specific Internet traffic and speeds, with that of the average consumer who is forced to select from a smaller pool of providers [5]. In addition, they cite deep packet inspection (DPI) as a privacy violation of Internet users because the service providers have the ability to monitor and inhibit network traffic and information flows, yet another way of discriminating against otherwise unfettered user activities [6]. It has also been questioned that behavioral advertising follows this same extreme by using content in attempts to tailor advertising. It is seen as an extreme because it is unregulated by the industry and the government, and can be exploited in other unforeseen ways. Network Neutrality as... The public (includes public Online Service Providers interest groups) online behavioral advertising allows unregulated and provide targeted services the unwanted monitoring among a public wants population of users who are unaware of the dangers; unregulated deep packet inspection unnecessarily and too broadly aid and assist law enforcement in allows for snooping and the identification and locating of monitoring of network traffic; violators, infringers, and unregulated criminals network management too much control over the provide load balancing and information flows (content) network traffic management to which should be unfettered make the online experience access to information; better for the public unregulated, and could become a problem Figure 1: Pros and Cons of Network Neutrality International organizations, trade and state industries, government entities, public interest groups, and online service providers have each adopted similar policies with which to effectively handle the opposing demands. While the ACLU looks at the matter as individual control versus corporate control, American Library Association views it as online non-discrimination, and the National Academies of Science views it as spectrum management and distribution rights. Similarly, the Federal Communications Commission sees it as behavioral advertising, Electronic Frontier Foundation looks at data integrity, the government considers this issue and debate a matter of economic policy affecting competition, commerce, and markets, and finally, service providers see the issue as network (traffic) management, it is a highly complex issue that warrants careful study. On the international front, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) also supports the ideals of net neutrality in principle. The ITU supports a new telecommunications standard for home users which would include an ability to protect network traffic from any outside interference, including that of the service provider [7]. This information is also posted on the CyberSecurity Gateway and a recommendation of the ITU [8]. As the leading United Nations agency for information communication technologies (ICTs), they are a powerful international voice for policy matters, working with groups such as world standards organizations and academia to help it achieve its goals. One of their stated goals is the “unfettered access” of content by users [9]. It is a foundation of Network Neutrality. Service providers such as Google, AT&T, Comcast and Phorm have certainly joined the fray, weighing in on their ability to provide high, quality services to its users. They seek to point out what they believe are the benefits of behavioral advertising as net neutrality. The benefits, in their eyes, are an informative and useful set of advertisements specific to the needs of individual users, as well as the provision and delivery of better, new
  • 3. Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI services to consumers [10]. Some marketers do believe that the benefits of behavioral advertising far outweigh the perceived negative impact to consumers [11]. However, contrastively, behavioral advertising via deep packet inspection is seen as overly broad and highly invasive to consumer protection laws, including the First Amendment. In the United Kingdom, cable giant BT Broadband admitted to monitoring its user's online activities and habits and selling the information to the company now known as Phorm [12]. Earlier this year, Bell Canada, Canada's largest communication company, admitted to network “throttling” in what they deem to be simple network management practices [13]. Without notification, they began reducing network speed of its wholesale customers, and interfering with peer-to-peer (P2P) downloads. These examples demonstrate that the United States is not alone in its observance of new, online predatory practices of online service providers. In addition, the actions of the providers is seen by me as paternalistic, and overarching the very services they seek to provide. A 2006 Princeton University report reminds us that “discrimination doesn’t have to operate by dropping packets. It can also work by reordering packets” [14]. IV. Final Thoughts The ability of an online service provider to monitor and indeed shape network traffic runs against net neutrality, as it runs counter to the idea of open and free choice by consumers. Likewise, behavioral advertising discriminates network traffic content in terms of content and thus, does not maintain neutrality in any sense of the word. Deep packet inspection is seen as problematic largely because it runs in the background and is unseen and unknown by the online user. These control practices utilizing technology available today are not evil in of themselves, but instead, promote preferential treatment by largely nameless criteria, as each online service provider maintains autonomous privacy policies, terms of service (ToS) and terms of use (ToU) in which one reserves the right to change aspects “without notice” to the consumer. As a foundation to good and sound information practices, we must begin with full transparency. Transparency is lost when the consumer does not know what or when traffic is being targeted, and where the content (information) may be stored or otherwise viewed by (unknown) others. In particular, should a breach occur there is nothing preventing a service provider from hiding this fact to protect the reputation or profits from public knowledge and the subsequent negative consequences. As such, in absence of internal self-regulation by the industry and external government regulation, full transparency, oversight, privacy, accountability, and security should be requirements from any entity seeking consensus for Network Neutrality. The dangers of network neutrality are broad-reaching and have the potential to reach every aspect of our online lives. It is for this reason that a holistic policy approach be adopted, and transparency is but the first of many aspects to be utilized. Both oversight and accountability are key points to supplement decision-making, and should be incorporated into standard government policy approaches affecting citizenry.
  • 4. Analytical Paper Alina J. Johnson, MSI WORKS CITED [1] Accessed 2 November 2008. [2] Auferheide, P. (1999). Background, Communications policy in the public interest: the telecommunications act of 1996. New York: Guildford Press, 14. [3] Bagdikian et al as quoted in Auferheide, P. (1999). The shaping of the 1996 Act, Communications policy in the public interest: the telecommunications act of 1996. New York: Guildford Press, 40. [4] Accessed 15 September 2008. [5] Accessed 15 September 2008. [6] Ibid, 14. [7] Accessed 15 September 2008. [8] Accessed 15 September 2008. [9] Accessed 15 September 2008. [10] Accessed 15 September 2008 [11] Accessed 15 September 2008. [12] phorm-systems-in-2006 Accessed 15 September 2008. [13] throttling.html Accessed 15 September 2008 [14] Felton, E.W. (2006). Nuts and bolts of net neutrality. Princeton University Center for Information Technology Policy, 16.