#187 Net Neutrality... or, The Bandwidth Wars

by Fred Showker

Free Internet Net Neutrality BIG CHANGES ARE AFOOT IN THE WAY THE INTERNET WORKS and 'net neutrality' is a conundrum with so much misinformation, confusion and media lip service floating around that no one seems to really know what's going on. Two things are for sure: it is NOT going away, and it IS going to be a media feeding frenzy.

Upside-down pros and cons
This is going to be a long, miserable, and potentially damaging struggle; primarily because the two sides of the argument have gotten themselves upside-down. Those in favor of neutrality are crying: please don't regulate so the 'little guy' and everyone else can be free to do as they please. Yet those are the ones currently exploiting and profiteering off 'the little guy.'

Those against neutrality are crying: please regulate, we're getting the shaft here, and those people won't play fare. Yet these are the ones who NEVER play fare.

What's rather ironic is that those in against it would normally be in favor of it, if it weren't the internet. More ironic is those who are in favor, are typically the arch rivals of the very same issues in the real world. If it weren't so serious, it would be comedy.

A reversal of roles
On one hand, web "accountability" has been the cornerstone of the net safety crusade all along. If there were true accountability for the ISP industry and the end user, there would be no spam, no phishing and no online fraud. (Or at least very little, very sporadically.) Since the Clinton administration, it has been rather obvious that the 'keys' to the Internet should never have been handed over to an international band of intellectual geeks, profiteers and crooks. Had Internic kept a tight reign on the IP and DNS system, the criminal friendly registrars and ISPs would not exist today and the criminal element would never gain a foothold the way ICANN has allowed them to do. Unfortunately, the Pandora's box was freely opened. So, in many respects, bringing accountability to the industry would be a good thing and needs to be done. (Which is basically what the letter of the "Net Neutrality" bill is attempting to address -- or so it would seem.)

On the other hand, the ambiguous nature of the "Net Neutrality" bill leaves so much for interpretation, that any relative success in practice is left up to the whims of the judicial system. (Which translates to: "Nothing will get done until tested in the courts -- up to judges to decide -- legislation from the bench! Which will be... uh, probably never.") Consequently, the 'net neutrality' movement is left free to mount a crusade against the 'big guy' -- corporate IP bullies -- with all manner of horror stories of improprieties. Both sides have valid points, neither really understands the other nor the depth of the issues -- yet everything is profit driven.

Those in favor of net neutrality say:
      "network operators with an ability and incentive to discriminate should be prevented from doing so." Says Anne Broache, CNET News.com, "... the idea that network operators should not be allowed to prioritize content and services--particularly video--that come across their pipes."

Big players like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft see trouble ahead. They know their bandwidth-sucking rich media (which translates to sales revenue and advertising) could cost them more and throttle their profits. These 'bandwidth hogs' have been eyeing the monumental profit potential of online voice, movies and video -- but they're quaking in their boots because here comes AT&T and BellSouth posturing to soon be delivering Internet-based television. Verizon has already done so in three states.

All hell will break loose

Recently, a little known North Carolina telecom company started blocking VoIP transmissions. Vonage and Skype screamed bloody murder and ran off crying to the FCC. So, the FCC steps in, heavy handed as usual, and declares that Americans are "entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice." Yet, the NC company is a private network, owns the equipment and infrastructure -- it's their equipment and they lawfully can dictate what content flows through it. The FCC seems to think they should not be allowed to block certain data or signals. Does that mean they cannot block spammers either? Who's right?

Which side to take
Oddly enough, reading hundreds of pages of opinions in the past week, I've read both arguments coming from both sides. The bottom line looks like it will eventually boil down to the ultimate struggle between the American free enterprise system and the ideals of freedom for all. You can have one, but can you really have both? Which will it be? Should the government step in and say you cannot charge for premium services even though those services are costing you more, or should the government stay out and let the industry find its own level and work out matters under the free enterprise system -- at some people's expense. Can they actually protect all of the people all of the time?

Before I take any sides, I'm going to have to learn a lot more. Therefore, I'll begin investigating and reporting the developments as they come along. It's up to you to decide how you'll vote.

Net Neutrality - keep the internet free NOTE: this file was published in July of 2006, and it contained 7 reference links leading to the original issues of Net Neutrality -- which sadly have all gone dead. The PublicKnowledge.org site is the only one that remains true, with content in tact.

And, thanks for reading

Fred Showker

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