The internet today is an open platform where the demand for websites and services dictates success. You've got barriers to entries that are low and equal for all comers. And it's because the internet is a neutral platform that I can put on this podcast and transmit it over the internet without having to go through some corporate media middleman. I can say what I want without censorship. I don't have to pay a special charge. But the big telephone and cable companies want to change the internet as we know it. They say they want to create high-speed lanes on the internet and strike exclusive contractual arrangements with internet content-providers for access to those high-speed lanes. Those of us who can't pony up the cash for these high-speed connections will be relegated to the slow lanes ... We can't have a situation in which the corporate duopoly dictates the future of the internet and that's why I'm supporting what is called net neutrality. BARACK OBAMA, podcast, Jun. 8, 2006
What is Network Neutrality? The Internet consists of access pipes that connect users to the Internet backbone. New wireless services are becoming available but traditionally access has been provided over the physical wiring infrastructures offered by cable and telephone companies. The speed of the access pipe can vary but once in the backbone core everyone’s web content, whether the content provider was a large or small business, receives the same speed and quality. This is the principle of Net Neutrality.
Users have an expectation that Internet Service Providers will maintain the neutrality of the Internet but it appears that greed trumps this trust. Companies providing Internet services should treat all customers equally from a low traffic blog to a well established news network.
The point of concern and debate is whether Internet Service Providers should differentially manage Internet traffic based on the user pay principle. Should ISPs give preferential treatment to content providers who pay for faster transmission? Even worse should ISPs effectively act as Internet censors by giving preferential treatment to their own web content? If the principle of Net Neutrality is forsaken the Internet as we have come to know it will be lost; the future of the Internet is at stake. The loss of Net Neutrality would essentially create a two-tier web where those of us who refuse or can’t pay are reduced to using a slower and less reliable second tier service.
Internet Service Providers or ISP’s for short have an unparallel level of control when it comes to our Internet. New technologies make it easier for ISP’s to tell what you’re doing online, for example detecting how many e-mails a person is sending or receiving and if they are using their connections for online gaming, or using P2P applications.
ISP’s have the ability to direct bandwidth towards different applications, effectively dictating to consumers whether certain applications can run faster than others. To illustrate an ISP can make e-mail run faster while, slowing down programs like Bit Torrent. As an additional example through traffic shaping an ISP can affect the bandwidth available to a website that it doesn't approve of. Traffic Shaping is just one of the many techniques service providers can use to violate network neutrality.
What is a Tiered Service? Companies often support their websites in house at their own locations; however as an alternative model, people and companies providing web content pay service providers for hosting their online content. In a hosted solution customers currently pay a different price based on the access speed they chose. Under a tiered system content owners would also choose how fast their websites and applications would be transmitted across the internet. A tiered system would favour larger companies that can afford faster speeds, giving an unfair advantage over smaller companies and individuals. Such a system would ultimately hurt Internet innovation and squash the little guy trying to compete.
It has been the open architecture of the Internet that has been the driving force of the Internet’s bottom up innovation and which has made the internet the great success it is today. The Internet has created the global village a place where regular people and communities/organizations can be connected directly to an audience. In the future companies may not be able to replicate the Google story, a company that started off small and grew quickly because clients had convenient access to this innovative organization.
The State of Network Neutrality in Canada In Canada there is strong debate over Net Neutrality. There are those like myself and my group that believe strongly in the neutrality of the Internet. While Canadian telecommunication companies disagree. They urge that the issue be left to market forces; they say that legislation isn’t necessary. The problem with this argument is that most Canadians only have a handful of choices for broadband. Service Providers already hold a monopoly over the industry. There are too few choices to leave it to the “free market”. There is an economic incentive for ISP’s to discriminate against non favoured sites and in promoting their own content. It is necessary to ensure that there is an equal playing field and for that to happen government needs to step in. Without action the Internet could come to resemble the cable TV industry.
Currently the CRTC the Canadian telecommunication watchdog has largely refrained from any kind of strict regulation against retail Service Providers, however they have launched a public inquiry into internet service provider’s traffic shaping and throttling policies. I feel at this point the CRTC is waiting for the debate to be settled in the United States. For believers in Net Neutrality there is some hope in the United States where Barack Obama is a strong supporter.
Against this background where governments seem to be inept or at least reluctant to press for meaningful regulation, several Canadian telecommunications companies have admitted to traffic shaping. Bell has been caught throttling its customers and competitors. TELUS has been caught blocking websites and Rogers has been caught restricting downloads. What my group and I have found appalling is that there is virtually no Service Provider with a perfect track record.
The very principles that the Internet was founded on are under attack. Service Providers have been increasingly more effective in their methods. They wish to change the way the internet works to meet their interests and those interests do not align with the hundreds of millions of users worldwide. We cannot allow the open architecture of the Internet to slowly disappear.
It is imperative that government steps in and bullies service providers into ensuring the integrity of the Internet it must remain open and free. “Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online”.(Google vice-president, Vint Cerf) It is our opinion that violating Net Neutrality narrows consumer choice, inhibits innovation and hurts freedom of speech.
References: The New York Times (2010). Net Neutrality [On-line]. Available: http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/refrence/timestopics/subjects/n/net_neutrality/index.htmlPublic Knowledge. Network Neutrality [On-line]. Available: http://www.publicknowledge.org/issues/network-neutralityCanadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research Vol5, No 1 (2010). Net Neutrality in Canada and what it means for libraries [On-line]. Available: http://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/1133/1709SaveOutNet.ca. Frequently Asked Questions [On-line]. Available: http://saveournet.ca/content/faq Save the Internet. What is Neutrality [On-line]. Available: http://www.savetheinternet.com/frequently-asked-questionsCBC News (2006). Battle over net neutrality arrives in Canada [On-line]. Available: http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2006/11/02/tech-neutrality.htmlBest Speeches of Barack Obama (2006). Network Neutrality – Podcast, Complete Transcript [On-line]. Available: http://obamaspeeches.com/076-Network-Neutrality-Obama-Podcast.htm