Understanding Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is the idea that network service providers shouldn’t be allowed to prioritize information bits that rides on their pipes. Advocates in favor of legislation of net neutrality include Google, Amazon. eBay and a variety of consumer advocacy groups like savetheinternet and public knowledge argue enforceable net neutrality regulation to keep the Internet free, open, and democratic, so everyone can be on a same level playing field. Network service providers by contrast have incentives to discriminate between content for matters such as network management of spam, to secure and maintain customer experience at current levels, and for economic benefit from new quality of service standards. Experts in the network service providers lobby argue new laws will stifle investments in new broadband networks and net neutrality has the potential to distort the parameters built into operator business cases in such a way as to increase the expected risk and because it distorts the operator investment business decision, net neutrality has the potential to significantly impact innovation, revenues, operation costs and discourage infrastructure investment.

Network Neutrality Impacts

Proponents of net neutrality claim that the future of internet is at stake and to protect its open and end to end architecture legislations and rules are required that will prohibit broadband service providers to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content and prevent Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down web content based on its source, ownership or destination. For instance one of the network service providers Comcast was found guilty of violating net neutrality rules by secretly degrading and blocking peer-to-peer traffic on its network. Given the rapidly changing technological and market environment along with the government’s ability to make and maintain meaningful net neutrality regulation can cause more harm than good and poorly conceived heavy handed legislation could make it difficult for network service providers to legally perform necessary network management and shaping tasks like packet filtering for combating denial of service attacks, E-Mail spam and preventing the spread of computer viruses on networks to maintain minimum service quality levels. Recent pieces of legislation, like The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009, attempted to exclude reasonable network management from regulation which would have made it very difficult for network service operators to maintain minimum level of quality of service for broadband services given the present internet architecture and business models adopted by network service providers resulting in jeopardizing the whole infrastructure of the internet.

Network neutrality alone is not a magic bullet to solve all the issues. Radical solutions to net neutrality have become politically impossible today while it helps prevent many of the worst market excesses, network neutrality does little to ameliorate some of the systemic problems that necessitate it. Even though net neutrality debate remains polarized it has become very important to have legislation for net neutrality that should be light-touch regulatory framework that benefits consumers, technology companies and broadband Internet access providers without mitigating network infrastructure investments. The potential way forward in protecting internet freedom and net neutrality is to follow a middle ground approach in which all stakeholders are a part in rule making process taking in to consideration their minimum requirements and industry limitation for future innovation and protection of the openness and freedom of internet. The key to future of net neutrality legislation is to get the balance right between all stakeholders and present a predictable, effective, and tailored approach.

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