In another post it was suggested that the concept of net neutrality was tantamount to censorship, understanding a little bit about the subject I objected to the claim. In fact I think itís pretty obvious that maintaining net neutrality is the exact opposite of censorship so I thought it would be a good idea to open a new thread to discuss it.
To get the ball rolling itís probably worth laying down a little history and explaining the argument from both sides. Iíll try to do that in a non-partisan fashion and avoid all those nerdy terms and the penchant for geek-speak that seems to be the order of the day whenever the subject is discussed online. Hopefully itíll be informative for both the technical minded and not so technically minded readers but if I veer too far into one way or the other just shout and Iíll try to amend the delivery.
So what is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is basically what we have now, the internet is open to all traffic, the good the bad and the ugly, and no restrictions are placed on what flows over the internet or at what rate or speed the content is delivered. Itís an uncensored, unregulated free for all medium.
So why is net neutrality an issue?
Access to the internet is a finite resource, if you think of internet links as a series of interconnecting pipes with various diameters, similar to water pipes, you wonít be far off. The amount of traffic you can get down those pipes is restricted by the size of the pipe and the total number of people sharing the output. If youíve got a small diameter water pipe shared by three houses and someone turns a facet on full blast the amount of water delivered to the other properties drops. The internet is similar, only a finite amount of traffic can be delivered and someone downloading large amounts of data can reduce the speed for other users sharing the delivery pipe. Internet providers want to deliver a fast service so theyíd like to restrict the data flow for certain types of content. Thatís not the only reason though, internet providers also want the ability to make money off allowing a faster delivery to the content providers who pay for the privilege. To do that they first need to be able to throttle back the content delivery speed to the end user, an example and prime target would be Google. If a page loads in one second and the internet provider had the ability to slow it down so that it took five seconds they could go to Google and offer them a four second speed increase Ė at a cost of course. Googleís market share is largely based on speed and they spend a whole heap of money to cut fractions of a second off their delivery times, the resultant loss of users because of a slow service would force Google to stump up the money or lose market position.
Thatís not the only driving force though, some internet providers would like to cut, or censor, certain types of traffic altogether. There are various reasons for that, some providers might want to ban access to competitors content, others might want to cut access by content type. If a service provider can double the speed of a business connection by banning video access that might be attractive to a business based customer market. Another, far more cynical reason, has played out in Germany already, T-mobile has begun to block all Skype voice traffic on its network, an obvious attempt to kill the internet phone system which would benefit its own telecoms business.
Those are some of the driving forces behind the move to remove net neutrality but whoís for and whoís against it?
Well the internet service providers are obviously in favour and the content providers are overwhelmingly opposed, end users are split. Some see the sense in restricting some of the stuff that slows their connection while others think the price of censorship is too big a price to pay Ė theyíd prefer it if the providers increased the size of the pipes and left the choice of what they can and canít access up to the end users themselves. Me? Iím slap bang in the middle, I think the internet providers should be able to censor the stuff that needs to be censored, stuff nobody wants Ė viruses etc. but legitimate content should be left well alone.
Should the government be regulating the Internet?
This is a bit of a misleading question when you look at the laws that are being proposed, opponents are quick to jump on this claiming that the government shouldnít be restricting what content the end user can and canít receive. Sounds ominous doesnít it, the government trying to restrict what you can access Ė unfortunately that isnít what the government is trying to do Ė the government is trying to keep net neutrality. They want legislation to outlaw censorship and ensure that the internet providers canít dictate what you can and canít access on the internet.
My question is, given the above, exactly how can a claim be made that net neutrality is tantamount to censorship?