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What Is Net Neutrality

The ongoing battle to determine the role of ISPs has been hotly debated ever since the public-incarnation of the World Wide Web. Traditionally, ISPs have provided internet service in a relatively benign and neutral fashion. The entire concept of Net Neutrality really depends upon the context it is discussed in. The purpose of this article is designed to give a brief definition and an overview of the main issues surrounding the concept of Net Neutrality.

For a more detailed discussion of Net Neutrality, please refer to this great article: http://www.cybertelecom.org/ci/neutral.htm

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality (or Network Neutrality, Internet Neutrality, or NN) is an unwritten, abstract network design paradigm that argues that no bit of information should be prioritized over another. It conveys that there should not be any restrictions, or any priority given to any content that is made available to the subscribers over the Internet by carriers or ISPs that run the major internet backbones. All traffic is to be treated equally and that these packets will be delivered on a first-come, first-served basis regardless where they originated from, or to where they are destined to.

"A neutral network might be designed without legal prodding as in the original internet. In an ideal world, either competition or enlightened self-interest might drive carriers to design neutral networks."

-Timothy Wu
Professor at Columbia Law School

In more recent history, the very concept of Net Neutrality has come under attack and has emerged as an extremely contentious issue in the United States, Canada and the world. Major ISP carriers have lobbied the FCC and the CRTC to eliminate network neutrality in order to charge websites based on their traffic (bandwidth) usage.

In its most basic sense, Net Neutrality refers to whether private Telecoms have the right to have a "privileged" service in which their affiliates and partners and subscribers have better great access to each other on a private internet network in which they administer and regular traffic, access and bandwidth to whomever they want.

This video does a great job of giving insight in to the "FOR" side of the debate: Save the Internet

This practice could allow Telecoms to block or remove websites that are competitive or that do not reflect the goals or values of the Telecom companies. People feel that this is censorship and that this practice infringes on our personal liberties and our freedom of speech. It also allows for Telecoms to charge more for "better" service yet QoS (Quality of Service) is certainly not assured or regulated. This has forced all of society to start asking some important and very fundamental questions regarding these important issues.

To understand why the practices of blocking IPs and bandwidth throttling inherently led to the debate over Net Neutrality, an understanding of the concepts is required.

"Too often, the discussion of why we need to protect the open Internet degenerates into a stale debate about regulation versus the free market. In fact, it's impossible for iNet Neutralityovation to continue apace without some basic rules of the road to protect that iNet Neutralityovation.

The open Internet was the principle leading the development of the Internet as the first open global communications network. And it helped drive the development of a host of Internet applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Skype. There would have been no motivation for the developers of these applications to have expended time, effort, and in some cases, their own financial security, in pursuit of their vision if they weren't guaranteed their inventions would have been able to work over any Internet coNet Neutralityection"

-Open Internet Coalition
http://www.openinternetcoalition.com

Bandwidth Throttling

Traditionally, ISPs have oversold their services. They will advertise "X" number of Mbps (megabits per second) realizing that the average user will only use a fraction of the available bandwidth. By overselling, ISPs can lower their cost of service to their customers per gigabyte.

If bandwidth is being overused, or the ISP experiences a large spike of activity on a particular node for one or more IP addresses, they will routinely throttle back the download speeds for the customers who appear to be hogging the bandwidth in an effort to normalize the bandwidth coming to all users on the node.

Through a process called DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) ISPs can conduct audits on what types of traffic is being sent. If it is determined that the type of traffic is of low priority, or is bandwidth intensive (per-to-peer files sharing, torrent, etc), the ISP will usually enforce bandwidth throttling on the offending customer. Typically this is pre-scheduled during peak hours to avoid traffic congestion during these times. However, if "encrypted data" is throttled back on this node, it can have serious repercussions if the offending party is a business making use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) or other applications that routinely make use of sending and receiving encrypted data.

IP Blocking

IP banning, or blocking, is a commonly used practice used to protect against unauthorized access and against attacks on servers in businesses and schools offering remote access to its users. IP blocking can be used to provide added security within a firewall by specifying which IP addresses have permission to access the system remotely.

It can also be used for people wanting to access their home computers when abroad. IP blocking is also the practice by an ISP to block or censor certain areas of the web deemed "inappropriate" by the public or to their customers. ISPs will routinely block certain websites or IP addresses from being accessible to its customer base.

Traditionally this was done with the consumer's best interests in mind; such as blocking sites with child pornography, hate sites or similarly offensive material. Aside from these "acceptable restrictions" people feel that restricting IP addresses borders too closely on censorship, attacks our First Amendment Rights and is absolutely contrary to what the Internet was intended to be.

"Forget the technology, Net Neutrality is about democracy itself-- the latest battleground in our nation's historic struggle for freedom of speech, a free press, and the free flow of information that We the People must have if, in fact, we are to be self-governing."

-The Hightower Lowdown
http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/node/2384

Why the Controversy?

The Internet has had Net Neutrality since its inception. It was, by design, regarded as an open and unregulated medium for the sharing of information and ideas. Net Neutrality was an early effort to ensure a level playing field for all involved. The two main factors that began the debate were the practices of ISPs to throttle bandwidth and block IP addresses.

The increasing number of "exceptions" made from Telecoms brought the debate of Net Neutrality back in to the forefront of public awareness. When major ISPs began blocking specific IPs and websites, and began throttling bandwidth to suppress their competitors, they began infringing upon what many felt akin to the treading upon First Amendment rights.

"Creativity, iNet Neutralityovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight"

-Eric Schmidt, Google CEO
http://www.google.com/help/netneutrality_letter.html

It might seem reasonable to charge extra fees to sites with huge traffic and bandwidth consumption, but the implications of eliminating Net Neutrality are both far-reaching and profound. Abandoning Net Neutrality may cause all website owners to pay carrier fees in order to avoid their data not being transferred, or may place data in a low-priority delivery queue. It will privatize the Internet making certain site only available if you use the right company and agree to the fees, and terms and conditions of use.

Conclusion

Net Neutrality has developed to encompass a huge range of related discussions and has become an umbrella term for many other contentious issues that have arisen over the usage, the future development and the overall accessibility of the internet. It has become a symbol of our rights for freedom of expression, free speech and the very ideals of a democratic society.

As we move forward, the path of the internet is destined to be a precarious one. The Internet will continue to be instrumental in the way we communicate, share information, the way we do business, live and socialize. Careful planning and mediation between the public, the FCC and government is required to find an amicably way to manage this important commodity.

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