• United States

‘Net neutrality: The debate gets nasty

Feb 15, 20062 mins

* What is 'Net neutrality?

Today, we’d like to introduce an ongoing debate about ‘Net neutrality. For those unfamiliar with the issue, there is a difference of opinion about how Internet access providers should offer end users access to Internet content.

On the one hand, some broadband access providers suggest that they should be allowed to charge a premium to content providers that want users to get faster or guaranteed access to the providers’ information or application. So for example, AT&T or Verizon, for a fee, could provide preferential network traffic prioritization to content providers to ensure “better service” between the user and the content provider’s information.

(For recent Network World coverage of the ‘Net neutrality issue, see these stories: ‘Net neutrality debate heating up; Consumer groups push for ‘Net neutrality rules; and Internet neutrality law needed, Cerf says.)

The proponents for this fee charge suggest that they aren’t degrading what is a “best effort” connection across the Internet; rather they are just giving better service for content providers that pay for better service. After all, enterprises have long been paying premium prices for service-level guarantees that offer a specified committed information rate; this pricing philosophy is simply an extension of how enterprises pay for existing packet-service connections.

On the other hand, proponents of ‘Net neutrality – including members of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association – which would prohibit such charges maintain that broadband providers and ISPs are obliged to give equal opportunity access to Internet content and applications. For obvious reasons companies such as Google, and the “bring-your-own-broadband” VoIP providers such as Vonage, are siding with the NCTA and other ‘Net neutrality proponents.

At times, the debate gets downright nasty. According to the Washington Post, a Verizon executive recently accused Google of enjoying a “free lunch” at the expense of facilities providers. Meanwhile Vint Cerf, one of the creators of Internet protocol and now chief Internet evangelist at Google, suggests that “telephone companies cannot tell people who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online.” (See “Vint Cerf speaks out on net neutrality”)

We’ll continue our discussion on ‘Net neutrality, related issues, and the implications of both positions – and let you know where we stand next week. In the meantime, please feel free to let us know your opinion; we’ll be happy to publish your comments in a future newsletter.