Save the Internet and Network Neutrality

by Devanshu Mehta

The Internet has functioned, succeeded and grown because of one major point in its favor- every entity connected to it is only judged by the size of its pipe and quality of its content. By size of its pipe, I mean amount of bandwidth it buys as a connection to the Internet.

The major players in the network business- the ones who control the backbone of the Internet- charge for that bandwidth. They charge computer users like us through our Dial-up, cable or DSL bills. They charge web sites for the bandwidth they use, larger web sites that require more bandwidth pay more. Web sites like mine, that do not require as much, pay less.

Bottom line is, everyone pays. Even when internet is “free”, someone is paying for it. Even when services on the internet are “free”, someone is paying for it.

The major Internet backbone companies do not like the status quo- they believe that in addition to what people and corporations pay for the Internet right now, web service providers that use a lot of “backbone” traffic such as video, audio services could be extra charged for tiered service. That is, some companies could pay extra for preferential treatment.

Like the white folks at the front of the bus.

You may think that nothing is wrong with that: people who pay more get better. But look at how things are at the moment on the Internet. If my content and service are good enough, there is nothing that can prevent my web site from having as much traffic as the major blogs on the Internet. However, imagine this scenario: Say a major blog could pay the Internet backbone companies like Verizon to get preferential treatment on the network. That is, their traffic is delivered to users first, with priority in congestion, with less delay and guarantees on delivery. And the rest of us, including my blog, get the left overs. My web site could never compete with anyone who had more money than I did. But it’s bigger than my blog- lack of net neutrality could mean that Google opens quicker than Yahoo, iTunes works faster than Napster and so on because Verizon said so. Effectively, they hold larger companies hostage and push smaller companies over the edge. The barrier to entry is raised so high that the maverick blogs and web application innovation you see from people with nothing more than an internet connection will be lost.

Think this is far-fetched? The following has already happened:

  • In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.
  • In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a contentious labor dispute.
  • Shaw, a major Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.
  • In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned — an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

Here are a few things you can take a look at:

More later!