'Net neutrality vs. tiered services

Verizon, AT&T, Google and others have staked out positions

With AT&T, Verizon, Google and the Department of Justice in the mix, no one is backing down on the net neutrality debate.

In the mid-1990s, the comic book industry’s two titans combined forces to release “Marvel Comics vs. DC,” a short series that pitted such classic DC heroes as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman against Marvel icons such as Spider Man, the Hulk and Wolverine.

The debate over network neutrality is very similar to this infamous clash of comic book stars. Why, you ask? Because seemingly every major power in telecommunications, politics and IT -- from Congress to the Department of Justice to Verizon to AT&T to Google -- has staked out a position and is waging a fierce battle for consumers’ hearts and minds.

Network neutrality -- often commonly referred to as 'Net neutrality -- is the principle that ISPs should not be allowed to block or degrade Internet traffic from their competitors in order to speed up their own. Several consumers’ rights groups, as well as large Internet companies such as Google and eBay, have led the charge to get Congress to pass laws restricting ISPs from blocking or slowing Internet traffic, so far with little success. The major telcos, meanwhile, have uniformly opposed net neutrality by arguing that such government intervention would take away ISPs’ incentives to upgrade their networks, thus stalling the widespread deployment of broadband Internet. In order to keep maintaining and improving network performance, say net neutrality opponents, ISPs need to have the power to use tiered networks to discriminate in how quickly they deliver Internet traffic.

Yet despite all the heat this fight has raised, neither side looks as though it’s backing down anytime soon. Although the Senate proposed new net neutrality legislation in January, there have been no significant advances on that front since then. Previous Congressional efforts at passing net neutrality legislation have proven so far unsuccessful. But net neutrality will almost certainly continue to make headlines, whether they come from forceful denunciations written by the Justice Department or from revelations that Comcast blocks some peer-to-peer traffic on its services.

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