Net Neutrality

Dennis Faas's picture

Network neutrality (also known as "Net neutrality") is a principle that advocates no restrictions by Internet Service Providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and no restrictions on the modes of communication allowed.

The principle states that if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for the same level of access, that the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access.

Net Neutrality and Service Providers

Neutrality proponents claim that telecom companies seek to impose a tiered service model in order to control the pipeline and thereby remove competition, create artificial scarcity, and oblige subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services. Many believe net neutrality to be primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms.

In spite of this claim, certain Internet service providers have intentionally slowed peer-to-peer (P2P) communications. Still other companies have acted in contrast to these assertions of hands-off behavior and have begun to use deep packet inspection to discriminate against P2P, FTP and online games, instituting a cell-phone style billing system of overages, free-to-telecom "value added" services, and bundling.

Definitions of network neutrality

At its simplest network neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Net neutrality advocates have established three principal definitions of network neutrality:

Absolute Non-discrimination

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu says that "Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally."

According to Imprint Magazine, University of Michigan Law School professor Susan P. Crawford "believes that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regard for quality-of-service considerations."

Limited Discrimination without Quality of Service Tiering

United States lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.

Limited Discrimination and Tiering

This approach allows higher fees for QoS (quality of service) as long as there is no exclusivity in service contracts. According to Tim Berners-Lee: "If I pay to connect to the Net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality of service."

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