Net Neutrality- the next big reform?

Posted on September 23, 2010


Net Neutrality, the next big war for land acquisition or rather redistribution. Well, not land, but bandwidth and speed anyway.

But it is kind of like land reform, check out this definition of land reform and substitute the words Internet traffic for the word land. Kind of works doesn’t it? –

Land reform is an often-controversial alteration in the societal arrangements whereby a government administers the ownership and use of land. Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution, generally of agricultural land, or be part of an even more revolutionary program that may include forcible removal of an existing government that is seen to oppose such reforms.

Throughout history, popular discontent with land-related institutions has been one of the most common factors in provoking revolutionary movements and other social upheavals. To those who work on the land, the landowner’s privilege of taking a substantial portion —in some cases half or even more— of production may seem unfair.

Consequently, land reform most often refers to transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful: from a relatively small number of wealthy (or noble) owners with extensive land holdings (e.g. plantations, large ranches, or agribusiness plots) to individual ownership by those who work the land. Such transfer of ownership may be with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land. The land value tax advocated by Georgists is a moderate, market-based version of land reform.

In this case, however, the reform is between just big companies. The idea that we would all benefit in our daily lives with net neutrality is still just a theory, but it helps sometimes to just understand what the concept is all about.

(Bloomberg) Internet companies such as Facebook Inc. are fighting communications providers led by AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. over what rules U.S. regulators should adopt for the Internet. The issue concerns net neutrality, a concept sufficiently nebulous that even companies on the same side of the issue can’t agree on exactly what it means.

A primer for technophobes:

What is net neutrality?

It’s the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. In theory, companies that handle Internet traffic, including Comcast and AT&T, would have to transmit Google Inc.’s YouTube videos at the same speed as movies from Netflix Inc. AT&T couldn’t give priority service to YouTube in exchange for payments at the expense of the video service’s rivals.

Why do supporters say the government should impose net- neutrality rules?

Advocates say that without rules, Internet-service providers may manage their networks to favor their own content or that of business partners, while blocking or slowing competing offerings.

That would undermine the Web’s premise of openness and opportunity, locking out new ventures and restricting the choices of users, the supporters say.

Among supporters are companies such as Skype Technologies SA, which provides free and discounted phone service over the Internet, and advocacy groups such as Washington-based Free Press.

Why do opponents say the government shouldn’t put new rules in place?

Internet-service providers, such as cable and phone companies, say rules would interfere with their need to manage networks so that bandwidth-hogging applications don’t slow service to everyone.

There’s no evidence of abuses that would merit government intervention, and consumers would abandon any Internet provider that limited their online choices, the opponents say. They say rules would discourage billions of dollars in network investment by limiting potential returns.

Has the government attempted to enforce net neutrality previously?

The Federal Communications Commission censured Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider, in 2008 for interfering with subscribers’ Web traffic in a case that involved the BitTorrent file-sharing application.

A federal court ruled in April of this year that the FCC lacked power to act against Comcast. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the decision “reduces sharply” the commission’s authority over Internet-service providers.

Genachowski proposed shoring up the FCC’s power by extending to the Internet rules written in the 20th century for monopoly telephone service. He hasn’t sought an FCC vote on the approach, which companies such as AT&T say may lead to regulation of Internet rates.

Why are Google and Verizon working together?

On Aug. 9, Google and Verizon Communications Inc. proposed what they called a legislative framework proposal that aims to “help resolve a debate which has largely stagnated.”

Google, operator of the most-used Internet search engine, has long worked with advocates of net neutrality. Verizon, the second-largest U.S. phone company after AT&T, has sided with other Internet providers opposing government rules.

Google said the agreement with Verizon provided a way out of an “intractable” dispute and that the compromise would be “preferable to no protection at all.”

How would the Google-Verizon plan work?

Internet providers would be barred from “undue discrimination” against lawful Web content, while retaining authority for “reasonable” network management.

The proposal would let Internet service providers offer “additional online services” for an extra charge.

It also would also exempt all wireless services, such as Web applications on mobile phones. The companies say wireless services shouldn’t come under net-neutrality rules because those networks are competitive and they are still evolving.

What do critics say about the Google-Verizon plan?

Groups such as Free Press say exempting “additional online services” from regulation would create a two-tiered system, with today’s Internet languishing as investment goes to more lucrative pay services. Exempting wireless devices such as mobile phones would let companies limit options in the fastest- growing part of the Internet, the critics say.

What’s next?

The FCC or Congress may act. There is no deadline.