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Update on the Net Neutrality debate

This also means that the Internet service providers (ISPs) and the government should treat data on the Internet the same, so that all data packets…

This also means that the Internet service providers (ISPs) and the government should treat data on the Internet the same, so that all data packets (going through the Internet) should be delivered at the same rate, without the need for division into slow track and fast track delivery. This column presented the state of the NN debate in the 5 May 2014 issue of Daily Trust.
In the United States, President Obama made a national speech a few weeks ago, asking the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt rules that would stop broadband companies from slowing down certain types of online content. The European Parliament outlined similar rules earlier this year, but now some European lawmakers seem to be back-pedaling, by pushing to loosen the rules in a way that would allow companies to potentially charge for faster access to their networks. A draft proposal circulated among the members of the EU and released by European Digital Rights, a Brussels-based advocacy group, would remove the strict definition of NN from new European telecom legislation that is expected to be finalized sometime next year. EU met on this issue last week Thursday. The new EU proposal is asking to allow broadband and telecom companies to manage traffic across their networks (and potentially offer faster speeds to companies that are willing to pay a premium) as long as the telcos provide a minimal level of access for all online content.
Telcos like Vodafone of Britain and Orange of France are concerned that the previous proposals would not allow them to charge for improved access to their networks to generate revenue that they say is needed to upgrade Europe’s Internet infrastructure.
The earlier rules proposed by the Parliament include amendments intended to provide a strict definition of Net Neutrality, so that telecom companies and other Internet service providers could not discriminate between different services that run on their data networks. And even while some European lawmakers are moving to alter the region’s Net Neutrality proposals, others continue to push for strong rules. “All the traffic has to be treated equally,” Andrus Ansip, the new digital chief at the European Commission, told Reuters last week when he was asked about the potential watering down of Europe’s Net Neutrality rules. “The Internet has to stay open for everybody.”
In the United States, high-speed Internet carriers, including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon, are asking for a two-tier Internet service model, whereby carriers would be able to charge content providers a premium fee for priority placement and faster speed across their networks. They suggest that a two-tier model already exists in the fact that consumers have a choice of using a slower dial-up service or paying a premium price for faster speed over cable or digital subscriber line (DSL) and ISPs already prioritize traffic for quality of service. They maintain that legislating the Internet would adversely affect innovation and economic growth. The ISPs point to a small percentage of bandwidth monopolizers who use file-sharing, video and gaming sites that slow down networks for everyone else. According to the ISPs, the bandwidth hogs should be made to pay!
The ISPs are misrepresenting the situation. Yes, depending on your budget, you can opt for a dial-up or for a DSL, or even the Google gigabit broadband connection. However, if NN applies, your Internet access speed should be determined only by this variable. In particular, the speed of data transfer should not depend on the content of the data, so that contents sent out by content providers or by heavy users enjoy the same speed of transfer as contents sent out by non-business users, provided the same basic broadband service is involved. Of course, we know that the larger the data size the longer it takes to transfer for the same bandwidth. But this is not the issue at hand.
Critics of the two-tiered model, including ordinary consumers, content providers, and Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook, believe that the extra costs incurred for premium service will be passed down to the consumer, which can only be stopped by legislation. With NN, small, independent sites are on an even playing field with large, corporately-owned sites, a situation that is said to have sparked innovation and economic growth.
Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, an English computer science graduate of Oxford University in the UK who is best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, has opinions on NN: “Net neutrality is this: If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level. That’s all. It’s up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens. Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free. Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn’t pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will.” He also said that “there have been suggestions that we don’t need legislation because we haven’t had it. These are nonsense, because in fact we have had net neutrality in the past — it is only recently that real explicit threats have occurred.”
The take away from this article is that the battle on Net Neutrality continues, with the European Union showing signs of a shift in position in a way that will benefit ISPs and cable companies, at the expense of the rest of us!

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