04 July 2006

Telecommunications Act of 2006 (Part 2)

(Table of Contents--Part 1)

Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is the concept under which internet service providers (ISP's) are treated legally like common carriers. As a "common carrier," they are legally required to provide access to all; they may not exclude anyone. In contrast, ISP's want to be accorded "free speech rights" that allow them to exclude digital signals to which they object.

The real motivation for challenging network neutrality is as follows: digital packets of data are transmitted on a "first-come first serve" basis; the internet is allegedly biased against large packets, as on voice or video. Hence, the legal principle of network neutrality was challenged on the grounds that, in the technical sense it was applied, it wasn't really neutral--it made voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) and IPTV costlier than they out to have been. So the FCC rephrased its regulatory principles to declare that customers were entitled to the lawful Internet content of their choice.

So ISP's have lobbied for a two-tiered system of charging for internet transmission to alleviate congestion and finance infrastructure; the goal would be to reconfigure packet switching so that voice and video packets would reliably move through the system on time, i.e., allowing real-time transmission of data. This would alter the internet from a "dumb" network, in which data flows according to the relentless application of simple rules, to an "intelligent" network, like telephones, in which traffic is controlled and managed through human selection. It would increase the applications available online, and increase the opportunity for price discrimination by ISP's (thereby allowing customers desiring premium services to pay more for them).

However, there has been considerable speculation about how ISP's might abuse the power of discrimination--or an alternative definition of net neutrality. Finally, price discrimination would tend to replicate the economics of other kinds of broadcast networks. The ability of blogs to act as a countervailing voice online would be jeopardized as multi-tiered internet delivery systems essentially reduced the blog to an online personal file storage system, accessible only to the editor and her associates.
Wikipedia: Network Neutrality

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