One internet battle I expect to be fought in 2010 is the battle over net (network) neutrality.  This is not a new battle, and has been on the radar for a few years now.  I am hoping that 2010 is the year when the government finally draws a line in the sand.

What is net neutrality?  It is the concept that all network traffic be treated the same.  The tiny email you send to your mother has the exact same priority as your neighbor’s multi-gigabyte Youtube downloads.  Internet service providers could relieve network congestion by throttling (intentionally slowing) heavy use such as downloads – but this would violate a principle of net neutrality.

It’s easy to see why users are largely in favor of net neutrality – nobody wants their internet experience degraded.  Users would much prefer to see internet service providers (ISPs) make their networks more robust.

On the flip side of the debate are the ISPs, who would like to be allowed to throttle or force big internet companies to pay them for the privilege of allowing access to their site.  The ISPs claim that certain companies are getting a free ride.  Specifically former SBC CEO (and current GM CEO) Ed Whitacre claimed that Google was getting a free ride.  The idea has become a key point for the ISPs.

Is there any merit to this?  No.  Google pays enormous costs for its infrastructure, as well as paying for the bandwidth that allows people to access and download data from them.  Do they pay for the bandwidth required for my ISP to send the data along to me?  Of course not.  That’s what I’m paying for when I pay my ISP bill.  If the ISPs want Google and other web companies to pay for their costs, when why should I have to pay anything?  This is a blatant attempt to double dip.  Further, it’s blatantly dishonest; an obvious attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of some people who might not fully understand the workings of the internet.

My general rule of thumb is that if you have to lie to make your point, your point probably isn’t valid.

So, then, if I’m not in favor of putting the ISPs on GoogleFare (like welfare, but taking money from Google instead) am I am least amenable to throttling?  No.  My data, regardless of size, is no more of less important than anyone else’s data.  No data should be subject to any artificial constraint, other than the published bandwidth limit.  (Interestingly, I’m not actually a very heavy user – but that doesn’t prevent me from feeling the pain of those who are).

If you want to place limits on usage, go ahead – but I believe you should be forced to disclose these limitations in a very obvious way in advertising and on contracts.  Will this make it appear as if you are providing service that is inferior to that of your competitors, allowing them to eat your lunch?  Yes … but it’s only fair, since you actually ARE providing inferior service.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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