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.

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.


Doug Bernard

dbjohnson+voanews.com

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs