13 March 2007
Recently, there has been a major Internet debate over Net Neutrality, which is proposed
government legislation that would prevent broadband service providers from dividing the
Internet into a “fast lane” for companies that pay extra and a “slow lane” for companies that just
pay the required bandwidth costs (Baumann Online Database). Net neutrality is definitely
something that we, as Internet users, must demand from our Internet Service Providers and
Congressmen to ensure the Internet remains reliable, fair, accessible, and useful.
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens once described the Internet as a “series of tubes”, and “when
they get clogged, when you put your message in, it gets delayed by ... enormous amounts of
material” (“Ted Stevens on Net Neutrality”). This is the reason that telecommunications
companies want to create a fast lane. They want to be able to offer incredibly fast Internet to
companies that pay a premium price, guaranteeing them a higher priority when they put their
message in. This sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately, since telecommunications companies
are not wanting to increase the amount of available bandwidth, companies not on the fast lane
will be given a much lower quality of service (Passmore Online Database). Take, for example,
two search engines, like Google and Yahoo. If Google refuses to pay to be on the fast lane, or if
the telecommunications companies won't give Google access to the fast lane, but Yahoo is
allowed on and does pay for it, Google will become unusable at times because traffic destined to
Yahoo is given priority (Baumann). Recently, there have been instances of this kind of traffic
shaping at most Internet Service Providers (ISPs). To ensure that all customers get treated
equally and get what they pay for, customers utilizing too much bandwidth are forced to slow
down for customers that have a short burst of high bandwidth (Passmore). There are serious
quality of service issues involved with this. For example, if a company can only provide 3
megabits, but sells a 5 megabit service, the extra two megabits get tossed between users, giving
them all a lower quality of service in general (Passmore). Net Neutrality would prevent this kind
of traffic shaping from affecting users; they will experience a greater quality of service.
Having Net Neutrality is also important to keep the Internet fair. One company might
provide a service that is very useful, works well, and is exactly what a business needs. But
because another company's product is given a higher quality of service than this company's
product, a business has to pick the product that does not meet all of their requirements because
the first company's product does not have the reliability needed. In the case of smaller Internet
startup companies, it might cause their company to go under. Instead of a democracy or a
socialism, the Internet becomes a plutocracy, or a government ruled by money (“Plutocracy”
Online). This cannot be positive for any user on the Internet, because companies they deal with
may be using software they don't want to use just to ensure their users get reliable access to their
The Internet must also remain accessible to rural or remote users, and because rural users
are only a fraction of their customers, they don't necessarily have to treat them equally. Net
Neutrality legislation would help rural users get better services, like high speed Internet or higher
quality phone lines for dial-up connections. In some areas, the phone line quality is so bad that
dial-up connections are not possible. If telecommunications companies are permitted to give
higher-paying companies better access to their bandwidth, rural users will almost certainly be left
in the slow lane no matter what, and with all of the other congestion in the slow lane, will
experience even worse than poor connections to the Internet.
Internet Service Providers might also have hidden business motives that negatively affect
customers. Conglom-O Corporation might make a terrible and useless search engine, but may
have enough money to give an Internet Service Provider to ensure that they accidentally
(sarcasm implied) drop packets to competitor's search engine that is actually better. If this is
extended to services that are gaining a foothold in the market, like voice over IP (VoIP), an ISP
can force its users to use whatever VoIP service they want by altering their quality of service
rules. In certain cases, this is happening already. For example, Cox allocates dedicated
bandwidth for their own voice services, which gets around the quality of service issues
What if this happened with extremely popular teen sites? Cox could make their own
social networking site to compete with MySpace, allocate special bandwidth to their own
Coxhole, and give MySpace a lower quality of service. Sure, MySpace could pay more money to
get on the fast lane, but Cox might still not give it preferential treatment over their own service.
This seems like an antitrust matter, but it is perfectly legal presently. And, with the current
Congress's attitude on the subject, it seems like it will remain legal for some time.
Most of the current Internet problems can be easily solved. Almost all of the quality of
service issues can be solved by slowing everybody down. If an ISP can't provide 5 megabits, but
attempts to give it to all of their customers, the entire network becomes congested and slower
than if they would have sold the customers the bandwidth they could provide. So, the first thing I
propose is for ISPs to stop overselling bandwidth. Second, they should increase their capacity in
any way possible – even if it means turning down customers. Any trustworthy independent ISP
would tell you if they could not support another user; so should corporate ISPs. The third thing
they could do would be to actually do quality of service throttling. Instead of making it throttle in
a manner that makes an ISP more money, they should throttle bandwidth in a way that gives each
customer an equal share of the possible bandwidth. If a user is hogging all of the bandwidth, and
it is affecting other users, it should be okay to slow that user down for the benefit of the other
users. In the same way, slowing down certain kinds of traffic, like BitTorrent, to give adequate
bandwidth for the voice over IP services provided by competitors is okay as well.
Opponents of Net Neutrality argue that Net Neutrality might turn the Internet into one big
slow lane (Baumann). They are right. If we keep the current infrastructure and the current
practice of selling more bandwidth than we possibly have, the Internet will become one giant
two-lane highway. Once ISPs stop overselling bandwidth, we will no longer be trying to cram a
fleet of doublewide trailers down a two lane highway. Instead, we will be cramming hundreds of
compact cars, which move faster and occupy less space. And, if the two lane highway was
converted into a four-lane highway, the Internet could be faster than it is right now, even if the
numbers are smaller. Additionally, Net Neutrality legislation cannot outlaw quality of service
measures entirely, unless the legislation also permits ISPs to give customers the name and
address of anyone hogging all of the bandwidth, and also includes a provision to make assault
and battery legal in cases where the person assaulted was using all of the bandwidth. People are
not always considerate when they don't understand that their actions affect others, and this must
be accounted for.
With all of these peculiarities aside, it should seem important to get Net Neutrality made
into law. There are countless websites that offer the ability to complain to a Congressman, and
one good one is SaveTheInternet.com. Since Internet Service Providers can implement any kind
of preferential treatment that they want right now, getting any kind of positive Net Neutrality
bills signed into law will do nothing but help. Most importantly, every Internet user, voting age
or not, should take a stand and let their Internet Service Provider, friends, family, community,
and the world know exactly how they feel about Net Neutrality and why they think it should
become law.Works Cited:
Baumann, Michael. “Net Neutrality: the Internet's World War.” Information Today Sept. 2006.
Business Source Elite. EBSCO. OSU-Okmulgee Library, Okmulgee. 27 Feb. 2007.
Keyword: Net Neutrality.
Passmore, David. “Net Neutrality Technical Challenges.” Business Communications Review
Apr. 2006. Business Source Elite. EBSCO. OSU-Okmulgee Library, Okmulgee. 27 Feb.
2007. Keyword: Net Neutrality.
“Plutocracy.” Def. 1. Wiktionary. 6 Mar. 2007 <http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/plutocracy>.
“Ted Stevens on Net Neutrality.” The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Comedy Central.