Net neutrality: Faux go-slow

via Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
DEAR reader, what kept you? Perhaps you were visiting film-streaming service Netflix, discussion forum Reddit, blogging site WordPress or any of dozens of other popular websites where users are halted at an endlessly spinning “loading” icon. If your first thought was to send an angry missive about your internet provision, the stunt has worked.

September 10th marks Internet Slowdown Day, an effort by activists and web-based firms to suggest how the web might look if rules proposed by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are adopted. At issue is net neutrality, the idea that all data on the internet should be treated equitably, regardless of content or provenance. One of the options mooted by the FCC earlier this year would permit broadband providers—in America, primarily cable companies—to charge certain internet firms for guaranteed levels of service. The cable companies have their eyes on Netflix in particular, whose streamed entertainment sometimes accounts for over a third of all wired download traffic in America, often in competition with their own on-demand offerings.

In Silicon Valley, where a level playing field is seen as a founding principle of the internet and start-ups consider connectivity an inexhaustible resource, this did not go down well. An open market of internet fast and slow lanes would chill innovation, opponents (and The Economist) have argued. Who would consider launching a high-definition gaming service or an online back-up website if reaching customers meant trying to outbid established industry giants? It would be much fairer, say net-neutrality proponents, for the FCC to reclassify broadband provision as a telecommunications service, rather than an information service. It could then choose to enforce the built-in content-neutrality rules laid out in “Title II”, part of the Communications Act of 1934 (legislation first deployed to wrangle the telephone industry).

The FCC has been derided for failing to exert its authority over the issue so far. Twice before it has put forward proposals to protect net neutrality, both summarily struck down by US courts. When it released its latest plan in May, protesters camped out to get a first crack at expressing their displeasure. When the commission received more than a million comments on that plan within two months—an overwhelming majority of which supported net neutrality—the commenting deadline was extended to September 15th. A final ruling may come as early as the end of the year.

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See Also
Net Neutrality And Creative Freedom (Tim Wu at re:publica 2010) (Photo credit: Anna L. Schiller)
The Latest on: Net neutrality

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