News / USA

Choosing Sides Over Net Neutrality

In the occasional rough-and-tumble of where business, politics and the Internet meet, the phrase 'net neutrality' has become fighting words. It's an easy bet that most people have no idea what 'net neutrality' means, let alone what the fight's about. At stake, however, may be the future shape and cost of the Internet. VOA's Doug Bernard spoke with reporter Sara Jerome of The Hill for more about the battle.

Doug Bernard

UPDATE: On a 3-2 vote divided along party lines, members of the FCC Tuesday voted to approve a package of rules that would largely bar Internet service providers from selectively restricting bandwidth or consumer access to the web.

Commission chairman Julius Genachowski proposed the guidelines - sometimes referred to as "net neutrality" - to, in his words, create a strong but flexible future framework for the Internet. "For the first time, we'll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness," he said.

Under the provisions, networks such as Comcast or AT&T would not be allowed to slow or block Internet traffic from high-bandwidth or competitor's sites.  The rules would allow ISPs to provide a range of tiered services, offering greater speeds and capacities at higher prices, although as the Wall Street Journal is reporting, the rules would seem to discourage such "high speed toll lanes."

Republicans members of the commission opposed the move, questioning the legal authority of the action and the regulatory need.  Previously, 29 members of the US Senate signed a letter urging the FCC to delay action.  Already Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce Committee, announced she will introduce a measure to overturn Tuesday's FCC vote.

December 18, 2010

The phrase "net neutrality" is relatively new, coming into popular use as recently as 2003 as noted by the scholarly article Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination by Tim Wu of Columbia Law School.  But the issues at play are as old as last century's technology battles over telephones and telegraphs.

The concept is fairly simple: net neutrality guarantees that every user of the Internet - no matter how large or small, rich or poor, and regardless of purpose - will be treated equally in terms of access, bandwidth, and inter-connectivity.  The analogy is made to the nation's telephone network: the customer can choose his or her equipment, service, or purpose of the call, but once connected to the "common carrier" network of phone lines is to be considered equal to everyone else.

In this view the Internet - like our networks of phone, gas or civic water systems - is a public good that everyone has an equal right to use.

In the early days of the web there was little debate about this principle, largely because there was very little need: online traffic was limited and commerce non-existent.  But as the Internet grew more complex and commercialized, a growing number of interests began calling for greater traffic regulation.

Industry network heavyweights like Comcast, AT&T and others say they need to be able to control network traffic, allowing users and providers varying degrees of bandwidth - at varying costs - to keep the Internet running smoothly and profitably.  These firms have spent millions trying to convince regulators and the public that without these tools and controls, the web may lose any competitive advantages it has.

Content providers, like Google, Yahoo!, Amazon and others warn that such control would be tantamount to a shut-off valve that networks could use to slow or speed traffic at their choice.  That, they say, would end the essential openness of the Internet and kill innovation, and they, too, have spent freely in the battle.   Both sides have sought to bolster their message by partnering with a cross-section of political interest groups from across the ideological spectrum.

Net neutrality has also pitted Congress against the Federal Communications Commission to some degree, with Washington watching closely to see which side comes out on top.  Under the Constitution, the Legislative Branch - Congress - has the right to shape policy through the "power of the purse" - the sole branch of government with the authority to tax and spend.  However the FCC, as part of the Executive Branch, has the responsibility of executing public laws - in their case, protecting the public airwaves from dispute or disruption.

On December 21, the FCC is scheduled to vote on a series of net neutrality rules and principles put forward by Chairman Julius Genachowski.  Lawmakers, business and interests groups have all been weighing in on the proposed rule-making, calling for its passage or defeat.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid