Correction on Network Neutrality

February 11, 2010

Mea Culpa: Last week, I wrote a piece investigating Network Neutrality, trying to educate you as I was educating myself.  But I found myself swimming in waters that were deeper than expected, and a couple of readers pointed out that I had missed a crucial aspect of the (still-largely-invisible) Network Neutrality debate.  Here is the best.

“I think you misunderstand what exactly people are fighting for when they want net neutrality.  … Net neutrality is about making sure every site on the Internet is available to every person and no data is treated differently.  What net neutrality is trying to avoid is a Web site only being available on one ISP.  An example of this would be having Google only available on Comcast and Yahoo! only available on Verizon.  So if a costumer wanted to use Google, they have to use Comcast, and if they wanted to use Yahoo!, they would have to use Verizon.  This could get even worse if certain news sites were only available on certain ISPs (like CNN only on Verizon or your Web site only on Comcast).  It could get even worse if you had to pay large sums of money to have your site listed on certain ISPs.  If this happens it would be the end of the Internet as we know it and this is what net neutrality is trying avoid.

dddki03ad“The second part to neutrality is making sure no data is discriminated against.  This means ensuring that data from certain programs are not treated differently.  This has already started with ISPs throttling peer-to-peer transfers.  But unlike what you said, these are not mostly students illegally sharing files.  There are a lot of legal uses, including downloading free open source software and patches for programs.  A worse example of this would be ISPs slowing down VOIP traffic from any program that is not their own VOIP client.  They could make it so that if you want to use VOIP, you need to pay for it through your ISP.  This would be the end of programs like Skype.

“So net neutrality is about keeping the Internet free, allowing competition amongst all websites, and not letting ISPs set up artificial monopolies on what sites you are allowed to access.  Anyone who is pro business, pro free trade and pro open access to all information should also think about making sure the Internet stays as open and free as it is now.”


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