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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More