Net Neutrality

I came across an article in the Financial Times after AT&T announced their intended acquisition of BellSouth that questioned the impact of this acquisition on ‘net neutrality’. [See the Wikipedia entries on Network Neutrality and Net Neutrality].

I became interested in the subject and did my usual routing around on the Internet to see what the buzz was. To my surprise, the buzz is alive and well in the US and Canada.

In the US, the camps have lined up on one side or the other. The telcos, large ISPs and equipment vendors claiming there is no need for legislation while at the same time making broad statements about the value of the networks and the massive investment they have that is not being recognized fairly. Check out this article at InfoWorld which quotes one of the co-founders of the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF) as follows:

“There’s nothing neutral about net neutrality,” said Jeffrey Eisenach, chairman of the consulting firm CapAnalysis Group LLC and co-founder of PFF. “Net neutrality is, in fact, the theft of property rights from [broadband] infrastructure providers. It’s simple regulatory theft — the transfer of ownership from one group of people to another group of people.”

On the other side of the argument are companies like Google and Yahoo. There is a good summary in the Linux Journal by the venerable Doc Searls who argues in favour of protecting net neutrality.

The fight for Net Neutrality is for the place we call the Net. The fight against Net Neutrality is for a neutered Net biased toward carrying the next form of Cable TV. But what about the fact that most of us never have experienced Neutrality in the first place?

On the Canadian front, I came across a series of posts by Rob Hyndman and, through Rob, Michael Geist who comments on the threat in Canada.

What’s at stake? Innovations like Voice over IP (VoIP), new ‘not yet thought of’ Internet services and unfettered access to the content of our choice; not that of the ISP you use.

It seems to me there are lots of issues here that we should be debating before it is to late.


  1. Regulation (especially by the U.S. Congress!) of an industry that has thrived in its absence is a mistake, imho. The problem net neutrality hopes to “solve” is hypothetical at best, and the bottom line is that neither the market nor the FCC would allow a company to “squeeze its pipes.” Telcos know that they must provide a quality product at a competitive price or the consumer will take his or her business elsewhere. If consumers found their internet limited or degraded or its price too high, they’d take their business elsewhere. I just don’t see the telcos abandoning the people who pay the rent.

  2. Here is another post with a map trying to illustrate “who owns the Internet”; albeit from a US perspective. Kind of like those weather maps that stop at the 49th parallel:

    Anyway, the map itself is cool .. take a peek

  3. It seems to me that net neutrality is important and worth maintaining. The Telecom review report published yesterday had a few words in its favour. The US telcos that want to charge the big content providers for their volume are trying to collect twice for their systems: once from the customer, once from the provider. To date the customers have paid the whole way – but you can bet there won’t be a discount to the customers when the providers are paying.

    Neutrality is also important because otherwise the big telco ISPs will decide what we can see – witness Telus’s cutting off its users from access to a section of the web because its union had a site on that section that criticized Telus.

    ISPs have some claim to exemption from liability for content they transmit because they are neutral, as a common carrier (that’s why there’s a difference for material they host). If they start discriminating among data they transmit based on its source or content, why not make them liable for it? Do users benefit from that? I doubt it. Liability will lead to (a) censorship of the doubtful (consider the haste of ISPs to take down material subject to the most ludicrous notice-and-takedown messages, at least in the US – why fight it when it’s not your stuff?) and (b) manipulation of the content in their own interests.

    So in my view, it’s not a hypothetical question at all. The “market” in Canada consists of two or three big players, and the trend in the US is the same. One hesitates to trust market discipline to keep the pipes open.