Sunday, June 25, 2006

Net Neutrality and Freedom on the Internet and the World Wide Web

Via digg we link to a recent posting by Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Net Neutrality: This is serious.

We agree, and refer the reader particularly to a Slate article by Adam L. Penenberg titled Should Google have to pay for the bandwidth it consumes?

The US House of Representatives recently rejected legislating the concept of net neutrality and would leave the issue with the FCC, which may not be the optimal solution.

The US Senate Commerce Committee has also been grappling with this issue - made more difficult by the fact that the Chairman of the Committee, Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska, by his own admission does not understand what net neutrality means. For starters, perhaps Senator Stevens and his colleagues should stick their noses into the Internet and the WWW to see what has been written about this issue by people who do understand it.

For those who do not understand what "net neutrality" means, let us quote a definition of "net neutrality" by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web:

"Net neutrality is this:

If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level. That's all. Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens.

Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free
. "

On a more technical level of definition, Daniel J. Weitzner, Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in The Neutral Internet: An Information Architecture for Open Societies (also available as a PDF) describes four essential features of Internet Neutrality:

1. Non-discriminatory routing of packets
2. User control and choice over service levels
3. Ability to create and use new services and protocols without prior approval of network operators
4. Non-discriminatory peering of backbone networks.

What is the problem that has given rise to the recent discussion of net neutrality?

The problem is that some broadband providers have started tiered pricing practices based on Internet content, pricing policies directly in conflict with the principles for which the Internet and the WWW were founded, since it puts ISPs in the position of being able to engage in content price discrimination - with all of the evils which attach to such a power. One might compare this in principle to the telephone company charging you differently if someone sings Happy Birthday to you on the telephone rather than simply talking to you, or tripling the price (or even cutting off the call) if you start to voice political opinions which the telephone company does not agree with.

See Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution for a good discussion of the problem at Net Neutrality I and Net Neutrality II.

The Internet and the World Wide Web are largely the products of government, university and private innovation. Use of the Internet for commercial purposes was originally even explicitly prohibited. The whole idea of the Internet and the WWW was that equal access for equal price was to be made available to all, regardless of content. If the US Congress or the FCC permit tiered pricing based upon content, the Internet as we know it will quickly end.

Note: We have posted on this and related issues previously at:

The Internet and the WWW as Patent-Free viz. Royalty-Free Zones by Law

Net Neutrality and the WWW Revisited

Net Neutrality and the WWW

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