Net Neutrality and Its Implications

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Net Neutrality and Its Implications

In the abstract, the term "network neutrality" refers to the idea of an Internet free of any restrictions.  It holds that everyone who pays for Internet service should receive the same service at the same price, regardless of what they are using it for, and regardless of whether they are using a dial-up or a broadband connection. 

The proponents of "net neutrality," as it's called for short, worry that without this standard in place, telecom companies can block or slow service between certain kinds of users, thereby imposing artificial restrictions that reduce competition, create artificial scarcity, and introduce price controls.  For example, some companies, including Comcast, have deliberately slowed peer-to-peer file transfer.  At the moment, most Internet service in the United States is, in fact, neutral, but there are no particular laws preventing service providers from restricting content or charging customers more.  Nevertheless, it is a contentious issue, and there is aggressive lobbying going on in Washington on both sides of it.  So far, the five bills introduced into Congress with the intention of limiting various price discrimination schemes by service providers have failed. 

In one significant case, the Federal Communications Commission cited Comcast for deliberately slowing Internet service to and from some users.  But, as The Wall Street Journal1 reported, the action was overruled by a U.S. court of appeals, saying the FCC didn't have that authority. 

At stake, for example, is the ability of Google and Amazon to offer Web-based video, which takes up a lot of bandwidth.  If a service provider can charge more when a user downloads those big files over a high-speed line, then it may make those offerings less competitive. 

The ruling, however, touched off a firestorm of debate.  Proponents of net neutrality typically define themselves as Democrats or Libertarians, while opponents of it typically define themselves as Republicans or Conservatives.  But ironically, according to Investor's Business Daily,2 giving the FCC the power to regulate the Internet — which proponents want to do — would result in less individual freedom, not more.  And, the fact that this issue transcends traditional political boundaries was highlighted when 72 House Democrats sent a letter to the FCC protesting its plan to mandate "net neutrality."

At issue is who controls the Internet, and at its bottom, the issue stems from a widespread misunderstanding of what the Internet is...

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