I thought I’d write up some thoughts on underlying principles of the Internet — starting with Net Neutrality.
Net Neutrality — Its core is that 1. all bits/packets on the Internet have equal priority; and 2. all endpoints on the Internet are interconnected and traffic is accepted and delivered without prejudice to and from each and all of these endpoints.
The network operators (as data carriers) find better and better ways to carry traffic faster and cheaper (and perhaps more profitably overall), but to date it has been Internet pioneers, entrepreneurs, commerce, media, news and online services who have created new uses of this Internet platform, not the traffic carriers themselves.
The opponents of net neutrality want to eliminate the neutrality principles.
They tell us this is so the carriers can innovate and develop new services, and better manage their own networks. I’d say there’s some value in the management issue, but since the 1990s, carriers have been developing new capabilities, higher speeds, and the ability to handle more traffic even with net neutrality in place. What the elimination of net neutrality would allow them to do is charge based on type or origin of traffic — in other words, the carriers would presumably charge more for traffic that’s more valuable to the user, participating more directly in the profitability of every new service innovated by any entrepreneur. And also “calling the shots” on which services may have to pay the carriers more to prioritize, or even handle their type of traffic in the first place.
How do I know this? From conversations and news reports in the mid-1990s.
Net Neutrality has, so far, prohibited this kind of behavior and left the networks as essentially common carriers carrying all data without discrimination.
Legislation and the Internet — Legislation passed in the US, or China, or Iran or Brazil has localized effect for the most part. But legislation in the US, in the case of neutrality at least, will affect vast amounts of global Internet traffic, and the elimination of Net Neutrality in US law, followed by its elimination in practice by network managers, will have global effects.
Political Questions — This is not a “political” question. It is an economic question. Carriers would like to benefit more from the data they carry — currently they carry all traffic uniformly regardless of its content or economic value. Every bit costs the same as the next bit to carry, though some services use more bits. But financial data doesn’t cost any more to carry bit-for-bit than a Disney movie. Although Dems and GOP in Congress are coming down on pro- and con- sides of Net Neutrality, in real life it affects all of us equally. Seeing that Dems are more pro-neutrality, they are attempting to save neutrality which will benefit Republicans every bit as much. The political arguments are really based on taking sides for or against the large network operators, and for or against live citizens.
Why it’s Important — Neutrality permits netizens to build platforms (software, hardware) without regard for whether their traffic will be speeded, blocked or slowed by communication providers. That’s just it in a nutshell. It has been an essential part of net life for many years.
It also permits “anyone” to connect to the net. There are no special fees based on type of business or type of content. Instead they’re based on volume or speed. Fairly and equally. Some content may be blocked legally, but this is rather narrow in scope, and is determined in law, not by network carriers.
As a fundamental principle of the Internet, Net Neutrality is essential to openness and innovation.