Tuesday, June 27, 2006

feedback to NPR on Network Neutrality

[This is a slightly revised and extended version of my feedback to NPR regarding an article they did on Network Neutrality.]

The objective of Network Neutrality is to define (and, if need be, regulate) the way consumers such as you, Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, and I buy and pay for bandwidth that is carried over the public airwaves or using government granted rights of way for hard wire infrastructure by telecoms, cable companies and wireless service providers (SPs).

Network Neutrality is all about the idea that if you want to buy a certain quantity of bandwidth, you can get it for the same price (measured in bits-per-second per dollar) as anyone else.

All the people and organizations that use the Internet already pay for the bandwidth they use and should not be subject to extortion by the SPs based on the content, source, or destination of the packets we send or receive, any more than we should get degraded service from TeleCo A if we call the sales office of Teleco B. The latter is what the greedy SPs want to make sure they can do. They should NOT be allowed to base bandwidth prices on content or addressing information.

The price you pay for Internet access should be content and address neutral. That is what has made the Internet so great.

[end of my letter to NPR]

A fairly good description of the net neutrality concept and related issues can be found at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_neutrality

The definitions of terms presented there are useful, so I quote them here:

Definitions

Non-discrimination means that all traffic over the network (typically digital packets or bits) is treated the same by the network, including the traffic originating with the network operator. This principle of 'bit parity' means that all bits are treated as 'just bits', and no bit traffic is prioritized over other bits, and none is hampered or disabled.

Interconnection means that network operators have both a duty of interconnection and a right of interconnection to any other network operator. Networks must be constructed so that there are a reasonable number of accessible interconnect points; that traffic is carried to and from rival networks at reasonable rates; and that the network is built with sufficient excess capacity to accommodate the reasonably foreseeable traffic that may be presented at the head-ends or peering points. Proponents of neutrality regulations argue that without a right of interconnection, there is no network.

Access means that any end user can connect to any other end-user. End users may be people, but the term could also mean devices (modems, routers, switches) or even other networks. Access means that a piece of content, say, an email message, has a right to enter the network, and if properly addressed, be received by the other end user, even if said user is on another network. In other words, traffic can begin at any point on the network and be delivered to any other point.



I am very interested in how Network Neutrality legislation might be patterned after Common Carrier laws that the telecommunication industry has had to deal with for years. Despite the (probably accurate) comment in the Wikipedia article and that of a friend about how I (usually rather libertarian and therefore against government meddling/regulation by default) think that some sort of government action to keep those who enjoy Internet infrastructure monopolies do not abuse them but rather use them to provide quality service to all who want to move bits over the 'Net.

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