Net Neutrality

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Net Neutrality is a topic of debate and confusion in the United States. It draws supporters as diverse as the Christian Coalition and moveon.org, pits traditional telecommunications companies like Verizon and Comcast against Internet giants such as Yahoo! and Google, and gives politicians yet another platform to raise an ongoing liberal-conservative debate over government regulation. So what is all this talk about? Philosophically, Net Neutrality is an ethical framework to govern access to the Internet. It advocates no restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed. In 2005, the FCC embedded these principles into its policy with an objective to “encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet” (Policy Statement). This statement and proposed additional legislation is the source of continued controversy today. Fundamentally, the debate is grounded in opinions of necessity of Internet regulations and the repercussions of action or inaction. This paper will attempt to provide a context for the debate, a better understanding of the regulation and the possible implications, and a summary of the differing views. Military, academic and research institutions have been utilizing networked computers since the 1950s, but this network was closed to the general public. All this changed in 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee, a British Scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) began promoting the World Wide Web project in an effort to use “Hypertext to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will" (Berners-Lee). The project has grown exponentially into a global phenomenon with an estimated 1.6 billion users worldwide and 231 million in the USA (CIA). To be a part of the World Wide Web the users rely on the services provided by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and access to the ISPs could be through various mediums such as Dial-up, DSL, Broadband and Wi-Fi. Until the 1990s, the Internet was predominantly used for exchange of e-mails and web browsing. The latter half of 90s era marked the arrival of MP3s and rich website contents that led to an increase in the Internet usage. The real exponential surge in the usage of the Internet happened during the early part of 2000 with the availability of video streaming and peer to peer file sharing (P2P networks). This resulted in an unprecedented increase in Internet bandwidth usage. According to a Wall Street Journal report it is estimated that YouTube streams as much data in three months as the world's radio, cable and broadcast television channels stream in one year and this is expected to grow exponentially as new technologies such as video conferencing are becoming popular (Swanson). The increased bandwidth demand puts a lot of stress on the ISPs whose physical networks are not growing at the same speed. The ISPs are scrambling to keep up with the demand by upgrading their networks and laying fiber optic cables and wireless towers on land and sea. For its part, the FCC has committed to support the expansion plans of the ISPs by cutting through the red tape. The origins of Net Neutrality debate can be traced back to Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks, which, along with video streaming, account for an increased usage of Internet bandwidth and are a source of criticism from Net Neutrality opponents. In a P2P network, unlike a traditional client –server architecture, all the participating clients share resources like bandwidth, storage space and computing power. It is an increasingly popular means to share large amounts of data online. While some of the P2P networks on the Internet are legitimate business a majority of them appear to be for illegitimate businesses used predominantly for pirated music and movie sharing. Due to the high bandwidth needs of these networks certain...
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