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Network neutrality is a general principle of Internet regulation which has no precise, agreed-upon meaning. However, it is usually agreed that a network is neutral if it satisfies all application needs equally. For example, a perfectly neutral network would not give better service to some web sites than others, and it would likewise not favor web-surfing or blogging over online gaming or Voice over IP. It is guided by the assumption that the public good is maximized by limiting Internet innovation to the edges rather than the core of the network.

But the notion is difficult to pin down. One prominent net neutrality advocate, Cluetrain Manifesto author David Weinberger, expresses frustration at the prospect of reaching a precise understanding: ...I recently spent a day—sponsored by an activist think tank—with a dozen people who understand Net tech deeply, going through exactly which of the 496 permutations would constitute a violation of Net neutrality. Caching packets within a particular application area but not according to source? Caching application-based non-cached application-based packets? Saying "Hi" to all passing packets, but adding, "Howya doin'?" to only the ones you like? Patting all packets on the back but refusing to buy some lunch? The whole thing makes my brain hurt.[1]

In 2006 a controversy erupted in the United States regarding the extent to which network neutrality should apply to the regulation of the Internet there. An electronic petition supporting network neutrality, with more than 800,000 signatures, was collected by the Save the Internet coalition organized by Free Press.

However, five attempts by supporters to get bills with network neutrality provisions passed by Congress were defeated. In every case, these bills would have prohibited Internet Service Providers from offering service plans priced according to the user's choice of Quality of Service levels: [Broadband service providers may] only prioritize...based on the type of content, applications, or services and the level of service purchased by the user, without charge for such prioritization; (emphasis added) is a typical provision[2], allowing application-specific treatment not permitted by some advocates, but disallowing fee structures that they would allow.[citation needed]


[edit] Background

[edit] Timeline

  • The term "net neutrality" was only coined recently, but the concept existed in the age of the telegraph, and maybe even earlier.[citation needed] In 1860, a US federal law subsidizing a coast-to-coast telegraph line stated that
Network neutrality
messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority.
Network neutrality

—An act to facilitate communication between the Atlantic and Pacific states by electric telegraph. June 16, 1860

  • The early roots of the Internet were created by DARPA with ongoing support from government officials as a United States-funded (hence publicly funded) research network governed by an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) prohibiting commercial activity. In the early 1990s, it was privatized and the AUP was lifted for commercial users.
  • The end-to-end principle of Internet networking, coined as early as 1983, argued that network protocols should generally be "dumb".
  • The Internet2 project concluded, in 2001, that QoS protocols were probably not deployable on the Abilene network with equipment available at the time.
  • In 2003 Tim Wu published and popularized a proposal for a net neutrality rule, in his paper "network neutrality, broadband discrimination."[3] The paper considered Network Neutrality in terms of neutrality between applications, as well as neutrality between data and QOS sensitive traffic, and proposed some legislation to potentially deal with these issues.
  • In early 2005, in the Madison River case, the FCC for the first time showed a willingness to enforce its network neutrality principles by opening an investigation about Madison River Communications, a local telephone carrier that was blocking voice over IP service.
  • On 2005-08-05, the FCC adopted a policy statement stating its adherence to four principles of network neutrality.
  • 2006- over 1,000,000 signatures were delivered to Congress in favor of a network neutrality
  • "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006" Makes it a violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act for broadband providers to discriminate against any web traffic, refuse to connect to other providers, block or impair specific (legal) content; prohibits the use of admission control to determine network traffic priority. Approved 20-13 by the House Judiciary committee on May 25, 2006.
  • A bill called "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006" was introduced in the US House of Representatives, which referenced the principles enunciated by the FCC and authorized fines up to $750,000 for infractions. It was passed 321-101 by the full House of Representatives on June 8, 2006.
  • The Center for American Progress held a 90 minute debate on Monday July 17, 2006 in Washington DC.

[edit] Defininitions of network neutrality

Tim Berners-Lee defines it so as to allow connection to the Internet at various service levels and defines it as: "If I pay to connect to the net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality of service,"[4].

Tim Wu sees lack of network neutrality as being unfair discrimination "The basic principle behind a network anti-discrimination regime is to give users the right to use non-harmful network attachments or applications, and give innovators the corresponding freedom to supply them."

Susan Crawford defines net neutrality differently from Tim Berners Lee or Tim Wu, stipulating that the Internet's transport layer should not be shaped in accordance with particular applications but should rather provide only the transport service appropriate to the careful file transfer that was defined in the early 1970s as the Internet's canonical application. According to Crawford's view, bits are bits, and accurate timing of packet delivery is a form of anti-competitive discrimination that ultimately leads to corporate control of the public commons. Crawford argues that networking is a commodity, like electricity, best provided by the government. Law professor Crawford, on the other hand, proposes open access (or unbundling) as a means of promoting network neutrality.

[edit] Relevant trends

Some trends affecting the debate are:

  • Requirements of VoIP and online games for low latency bandwidth.
  • The increasing use of high bandwidth applications, such as online games, and music and video downloading.
  • Increasing use of traffic shaping by many or most broadband providers to control P2P and other services.
  • Improvements in networking technology, which make providing broadband service, on the aggregate, cheaper.
  • The trend of governments funding the construction of high-speed networks in countries like South Korea, France, and for cities to build their own wireless networks, and their more gradual deployment in many areas of the U.S.
  • The increasing use of wireless home networks, which allow for neighbors to share an Internet connection, thereby reducing revenues for the service providers. In urban areas this factor can be very large, with a large number of people sharing one individual person's connection.
  • High bandwidth video and audio telecommunications over the Internet (including Voice Over IP technology) which threaten the land line revenues of Telco Internet service providers.
  • Increasing centralization of control over internet physical infrastructure, and justifications including protection against gray market file sharing and search applications.

Network neutrality is a contemporary controversy in the United States regarding the role that government should take relative to Internet access providers providing multiple levels of service for different fees. This controversy, which emerged following regulatory developments in the United States, is extremely complex, as it mixes technical, economic, ideological and legal arguments. In essence, network neutrality regulations proposed by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota)[5] and Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) bar ISPs from offering Quality of Service enhancements for a fee.

[edit] Discriminatory Practices and violations of network neutrality

In 2004, a small North Carolina telecom company, Madison River Communications, blocked their DSL customers from using the Vonage VoIP service. Service was restored after the FCC intervened and entered into a consent decree that had Madison River pay a fine of $15,000.[13] The FCC retains this authority under all telecommunications legislation pending in the US Congress, with or without "net neutrality" amendments, with an increase in fines to $500,000 under the House bill and $750,000 under the Senate bill.

Network neutrality violations are used for censorship of political, immoral or religious material around the world.[14] For example China [15] and Saudi Arabia [16] both filter the internet, preventing access to certain types of websites. Singapore has network blocks on more than 100 sites[6].In Britain and Norway telecommunication companies block access to websites that depict paedophilia. [7] Germany also blocks foreign sites [8] for copyright and other reasons.

[edit] Pricing models

Broadband Internet access has most often been provided to users based on bandwidth capacity. Some argue that if ISPs can provide varying levels of service to websites at various prices, this may be a way to manage the costs of unused capacity (or "leverage price discrimination to recoup costs of 'consumer surplus'"). However, purchasers of connectivity on the basis of bandwidth capacity must expect the capacity they purchase in order to meet their communications requirements. This is how high-traffic websites meet demand.

[edit] Market economics of network neutrality

A major argument in favor of network neutrality is that discriminatory networks distort market forces depending on those networks, and ultimately may slow national economic growth. For example, if a network provides different Quality of service for one Application layer protocol over another this preference may slow innovation by increasing the barrier to entry for new network software applications.

Another argument in favor of network neutrality suggests that Quality of service may be used to differentiate between content providers such as major search engines. This would have a fragmenting effect on the network causing core networks to behave similarly to the Bulletin board systems of old, where content availability was substantially different between one provider and the next.

The argument is summarized by saying that either practice reduces future innovation and thereby has a negative effect on the economy. Network neutrality is essentially a Soundbite used to encompass this general theory with the idea that a legislative or regulatory response is necessary. This approach a political charged version of arguments over Internet censorship that have been around since the conception of the Internet. Until now Usenet has been the preferred medium of dozens of censorship scares usually resulting in the original author ending up on Alt.usenet.kooks

Ironically, the opponents of Network Neutrality make precisely the same points. Discrimination is generally bad for the Internet and for the economy. However, traffic discrimination is also absolutely required[citation needed] at some level for the Internet to work as a whole. Border Gateway Protocol, which is essentially the traffic control system for the entire Internet is designed to provide some low level discrimination between traffic as well as route selection.

[edit] "Dumb" versus "intelligent" networks

Network neutrality is a theory of network design closely related to the end to end principle. Under this principle, a neutral network is a dumb network, merely passing packets according to the needs of applications. This point of view was expressed by David S. Isenberg in his seminal paper, The Rise of the Stupid Network[9] to wit:

A new network "philosophy and architecture," is replacing the vision of an Intelligent Network. The vision is one in which the public communications network would be engineered for "always-on" use, not intermittence and scarcity. It would be engineered for intelligence at the end-user's device, not in the network. And the network would be engineered simply to "Deliver the Bits, Stupid," not for fancy network routing or "smart" number translation. . . . In the Stupid Network, the data would tell the network where it needs to go. (In contrast, in a circuit network, the network tells the data where to go.) In a Stupid Network, the data on it would be the boss. . . .End user devices would be free to behave flexibly because, in the Stupid Network the data is boss, bits are essentially free, and there is no assumption that the data is of a single data rate or data type.

These terms merely signify the network's level of knowledge about and influence over the packets it handles - they carry no connotations of stupidity, inferiority or superiority.

[edit] Quality of Service and Internet Protocols

Early Internet routers typically forwarded packets on a best-effort basis, without regard for application needs, but this is changing. Many private networks using Internet protocols now employ Quality of Service, and Network Service Providers frequently enter into Service Level Agreements with each other embracing some sort of QoS.

The IP datagram includes a 3-bit wide Precedence field which may be used to request a level of service, consistent with the notion that protocols in a layered architecture offer services through Service Access Points. Obeying this field is optional and it has rarely been used across public links, although it is commonly used in private networks, especially those including WiFi networks where priority is enforced. Indeed, no single standard describing exactly how such requests would be upheld across independently functioning Internet routers has successfully gained dominance, although SIP, RSVP, IEEE 802.11e, and MPLS define this behavior.

Router manufacturers have begun to introduce routers that have logic enabling them to route traffic for various Classes of Service in at "wire-speed".

With the emergence of multimedia and VoIP and applications that would benefit from low latency, various attempts to address this oversight have arisen, including the proposition of offering differing, priced levels of service that would shape Internet transmissions at the network layer based on application type. These efforts are ongoing, and are starting to yield results as wholesale Internet transport providers begin to amend service agreements to include service levels.[10]

Network neutrality is sometimes used as a technical term, although it has no history in the design documents (RFCs) describing the Internet protocols. In this usage, it is claimed to represent a property of protocol layering in which higher-layer protocols may not communicate service requirements to lower-layer protocols, a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of protocol engineering. (In conventional network engineering practice, each protocol in a layered system exposes Service Access Points to higher layers that can be used to request a level of service appropriate to the needs of higher-layer protocols.)

[edit] Gary Bachula's Testimony

Gary Bachula, Vice President for External Affairs for Internet2, asserts that specific QoS protocols are unnecessary in the core network as long as the core network links are "over-provisioned" to the point that network traffic never encounters delay.

The Internet2 project concluded, in 2001, that the QoS protocols were probably not deployable on its Abilene network with equipment available at that time. While newer routers are capable of following QoS protocols with no loss of performance,[11][12] equipment available at the time relied on software to implement QoS. The Internet2 Abilene network group also predicted that "logistical, financial, and organizational barriers will block the way toward any bandwidth guarantees" by protocol modifications aimed at QoS.[13][14] . In essence they believe that the economics would be likely to make the network providers deliberately erode the quality of best effort traffic as a way to push customers to higher priced QoS services.

The Abilene network study was the basis for the testimony of Gary Bachula to the Senate Commerce Committee's Hearing on Network Neutrality in early 2006. He expressed the opinion that adding more bandwidth was more effective than any of the various schemes for accomplishing QoS they examined.[15]

Bachula's testimony has been cited by proponents of a law banning Quality of Service as proof that no legitimate purpose is served by such an offering. Of course this argument is dependent on the assumption that over-provisioning is always possible. Obviously factors like natural disasters, delays in installation caused by zoning, domestic politics, and construction permits all affect the ability to pursue an over-provisioned network. Note however, that these are all short term and temporary set backs.

[edit] Quality of Service Procedures

Over-provisioning is not above controversy. Unlike the Internet 2 Abilene Network, the Internet's core is owned and managed by a number of different Network Service Providers, not a single entity. Hence its behavior is much more stochastic or unpredictable. Therefore, research continues on QoS procedures that are deployable in large, diverse networks.

There are two principal approaches to QoS in modern packet-switched networks, a parameterized system based on an exchange of application requirements with the network, and a prioritized system where each packet identifies a desired service level to the network.

On the Internet, Integrated services ("IntServ") implements the parameterized approach. In this model, applications use the Resource Reservation Protocol (RSVP) to request and reserve resources through a network.

Differentiated services ("DiffServ") implements the prioritized model. DiffServ marks packets according to the type of service they need. In response to these markings, routers and switches use various queuing strategies to tailor performance to requirements. (At the IP layer, differentiated services code point (DSCP) markings use the 6 bits in the IP packet header. At the MAC layer, VLAN IEEE 802.1q and IEEE 802.1D can be used to carry essentially the same information.)

For a fuller discussion of these issues, see the Quality of Service entry.

[edit] Background on the political controversy

For many years, Internet access across the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) was governed by common carrier regulations. These guidelines required unbundling of communications services and ISP functions. However, on August 5, 2005, the FCC reclassified DSL services as Information Services rather than Telecommunications Services, and replaced common carrier requirements with a set of four less-restrictive net neutrality principles.[16] This sparked a debate over whether or not Internet Service Providers should also be allowed to discriminate between different service providers by offering higher network priority to higher-paying companies and customers, allowing some services to operate faster or more predictably and ultimately become more acceptable to end users.

Cable modem Internet access had always been classified an Information Service and not regulated by common carrier law, just as the high-speed data links that make up the Internet's core are non-regulated.

Supporters of net neutrality regulations argue that the current FCC principles are too weak to prevent telecommunications companies from charging fees to certain content providers in exchange for preferential treatment, which they believe will threaten innovation and entrepreneurship on the Internet. They see the Internet as a "level playing-field" which rewards the best ideas rather than the most well-funded ideas and believe that net neutrality guidelines are necessary to maintain this dynamic.

Opponents of net neutrality regulations argue that the Internet is not a level-playing field as companies such as Google and Akamai are free to achieve a performance advantage over smaller competitors by replicating servers and buying high-bandwidth services. Service discrimination, against the real background of today's Internet, actually makes the Internet more neutral, according to this view.

Telecommunications companies, having invested billions of dollars from consumers and government subsidies in new network infrastructure, believe they have the right to operate the network with minimal government interference. They believe that imposing net neutrality regulations would prevent them from expanding and improving Internet access for their customers, stifling incentives to develop new technologies and possibly leading to higher prices for consumers. There is currently a debate in Congress over how to best balance the concerns of both groups.

[edit] Current practice in interconnection

While the network neutrality debate continues, network providers often enter into peering arrangements among themselves. These agreements often stipulate how certain information flows should be treated. In addition, network providers often implement various policies such as blocking of port 25 to prevent insecure systems from serving as spam relays, or other ports commonly used by decentralized music search applications (often called "P2P" though all applications on the Internet are essentially peer-to-peer). They also present "terms of service" that often include rules about the use of certain applications as part of their contracts with users. Most "consumer Internet" providers implement policies like these.

However, the effect of peering arrangements among network providers are only local to the peers that enter into the arrangements, and cannot affect traffic flow outside their scope.

In the meantime, network engineers recognize the benefits of the design of the Internet Protocol, specifically in terms of its serving as a flexible platform for application innovation, including its provisions for service tiering.

[edit] Approaches to network neutrality

There are essentially two approaches to network neutrality regulation.

The classic approach, defined by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu and others, permits Differentiated Services as long as each application at a particular class of service is either treated equally or in accordance with a contractual relationship closely scrutinized by regulatory agencies. This approach is embodied in the Stevens and Barton telecom reform bills.

The more radical approach, defined by Susan Crawford and others, forbids tiered services altogether. This approach is embodied in the self-identified "net neutrality" bills sponsored by Senators Snowe and Dorgan and related legislation.

[edit] Municipal Wireless, Powerline, 3GPP, and WiMax Broadband

Much of the push for network neutrality rules comes from the lack of competition in broadband services. For that reason, municipal wireless and other wireless service providers are highly relevant to the debate. If successful, such services would provide a third type of broadband access with the potential to change the competitive landscape. For similar reasons, the feasibility of broadband over powerline services is also important to the network neutrality issue. However, as of the Spring of 2006, deployments beyond cable and DSL service have created little new competition.

Cable companies, in response to this threat, have lobbied Congress for a federal preemption to ban states and municipalities from competing and thereby interfering with interstate commerce. However, there is current Supreme Court precedent for an exception to the Commerce Power of Congress for states as states going into business for their citizens.

It has been argued, however, that neither municipal wireless nor other technological solutions such as encryption, onion routing, or time-shifting DVR would be sufficient to render possible discrimination moot[17]

3GPP cellular networks provide a practical broadband alternative known as EVDO, which, along with WiMax, represents a fourth and fifth pipe. WiMax has been deployed in limited areas, and 3GPP in much wider ones.

[edit] Debate

While the term is new, the basic concept originated in the age of the telegram in 1860 or even earlier, where telegrams were routed 'equally' without attempting to discern their contents and adjusting for one application or another. Such networks are "end-to-end neutral".

Generally agreed to have popularized the term, Tim Wu, professor at Columbia Law School, additionally claims[3] that the current Internet is not neutral as, "among all applications", its implementation of best effort generally favors file transfer and other non-time sensitive traffic over real-time communications.

Large American internet content providers have claimed that network neutrality also concerns the question of network providers favoring or disfavoring certain websites (e.g.[18][19]) or certain brands of Voice Over IP over others.

Advocates of network neutrality claim that large telecommunications providers are attempting to unfairly profit from their investment in residential networks:

"[These companies] want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all"..."tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data."..."to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video —while slowing down or blocking their competitors"..."to reserve express lanes for their own content and services.[17]

Opponents of network neutrality regulations claim they would discourage investment in broadband networks:

"Sweeping and rigid net neutrality legislation could: hinder public safety and homeland security; complicate protecting Americans privacy; erode the quality and responsiveness of the Internet; limit consumers' competitive choices; and discourage investment in broadband deployment to all Americans."[18]

Network neutrality regulations are supported by large Internet content companies (e.g., Google, Yahoo, and eBay), consumers-rights groups such as Consumers Union, some high-tech trade associations such the American Electronics Association (AeA), politically liberal blogs, and some elements of the Religious Right. Opposition to network neutrality regulations generally comes from large communication carriers, manufacturers of network equipment such as Cisco, free-market advocacy organizations such as the Cato Institute, other high-tech trade groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, and pro-business and pro-minority advocacy organizations such as the National Black Chamber of Commerce and LULAC.

[edit] Pro and con arguments

The Center for American Progress held a 90 minute debate on Monday July 17, 2006 in Washington DC office with "grandfather of the Net" Vinton Cerf, Vice-President of Google; and David J. Farber, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. It was shown on CSPAN on Saturday July 22, 2006 at 6:30PM.

Some broadband providers proposed to start charging content providers in return for higher levels of service. Packets originating from providers who pay the additional fees would in some fashion be given better than "neutral" handling, while those content providers who do not pay the higher fees would get a lesser level of service. Given this ability to accelerate the handling of selected packets, the service providers would perhaps give Quality of Service guarantees to given senders or recipients. This points out that once the net moves away from common carrier rules there are at least two levels of pricing: the price an ISP charges consumers for access and the price the ISP could charge Websites by varying bandwidth.

Advocates of "non-neutrality" point to advantages with respect to rationing what perhaps will be scarce bandwidth. Indeed, the topic was opened because of what may be a substantial increase in bandwidth consumption as multi-media uses of the Internet expand. Carriers want content providers who support bandwidth-intensive multi-media Internet traffic to pay the carriers a premium to support further network investments.

On the other hand, advocates of network neutrality observe that any practice that shapes the transmission of bits in the transport layer based on application designs will undermine the design for flexibility of the transport. Others claim collecting premium fees from certain "preferred" customers would distort the market for Internet applications in favor of larger and better-funded content providers and against small providers. They argue for banning such financial arrangements, even if those payments might offset total network operating costs ultimately charged to consumers. There is also the question of the service impact on the end user who has purchased broadband access from a carrier, only to experience differing response times in interacting with various content providers, some of whom paid the carrier a "premium" and some who did not.

Numerous commentors have cautioned that authorizing incumbent network providers to override the separation of the transport and application layers of the Internet signals the end of the authority of the fundamental Internet standards and indeed, of the standards-making processes for the Internet themselves.[20]

The debate has moved into the regulatory and legislative arena in a somewhat unusual way, because those who prefer to leave the status quo unchanged are advocating legislation in the U.S. to formalize elements of "net neutrality." Those would want to change by introducing "non-neutrality" do not presently want any further legislation.

The two proposed versions of "neutrality" legislation to date would prohibit: (1) the "tiering" of broadband through sale of voice- or video-oriented Quality of Service packages; and (2) content- or service-sensitive blocking or censorship on the part of broadband carriers. These bills have been sponsored by Representatives Markey, Sensenbrenner, et. al., and Senators Snowe, Dorgan, and Wyden. Advocates of continuing with the status quo include content providers such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and several prominent social-action non-profits, and media critics such as Robert McChesney.

On the other hand, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other companies in the telecommunications industry who want to offer "non-neutral" Internet broadband services are calling for the Congress and regulators to take a "hands off" approach. Presumably they do not feel the need for additional enabling legislation or regulation to make such changes. The telecommunications companies have found allies in various groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the League of United Latin American Citizens -- alliances the telecommunications companies forged in exchange for promises to provide improved Internet services to certain communities.

Complicating the discussion is the practical reality that the Internet is a highly federated environment composed of thousands of carriers, many millions of content providers and more than a billion end users - consumers and businesses. Prioritizing packets is complicated even if both the content originator and the content consumer use the same carrier. It is probably infeasible if the packets have to traverse multiple carrier networks, because the packet getting "premium" service while traversing network A may drop down to non-premium service levels in network B.

Further, the discussion has been very U.S.-centric and very terrestrial-network centered, even though the Internet is inherently global and mobility is the fastest growing source of new demand.

The immediate debate over "neutrality" does not capture the many dimensions of this topic; for example, should voice packets get higher priority than packets carrying email? Or, should emergency services, mission-critical, or life-saving applications, such as tele-medicine, get priority over spam?[21] Some further discussion of neutrality follows.

[edit] Positions taken by major incumbent broadband access providers

While the prospect of accomplishing QoS across the IP layer has been the subject of ongoing research for many years, recent regulatory and judiciary developments have marked the occasion for major incumbent broadband providers to declare that they will begin offering priced, prioritized delivery by directly shaping—as a differentiated, priced service offering—the behavior of the network layer in service of particular applications, sources and destinations. [citation needed]

Strict network neutrality rules would counter this development.

The discussion of how the existing practices of network providers often already do not administer to users the full capacity of the Internet as designed, combined with the fact that the IP network design does not serve low latency applications well when the network is close to capacity, has resulted in a debate on network neutrality conducted not in terms of the Internet's actual design merits, but in terms of the prospect of network providers differentiating their services by charging for prioritization.

Some access providers have taken the other tack of declaring that they follow a net neutrality policy. For example, Cogent Communications has issued a statement that it practices network neutrality.[22]

[edit] Law evolution

In the early 2000s, legal scholars such as Tim Wu and Lawrence Lessig raised the issue of neutrality in a series of academic papers addressing regulatory frameworks for packet networks. Wu in particular noted that the Internet is structurally biased against voice and video applications. The FCC subsequently adopted principles which ensured "consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice." In 2006 a bill called Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 was introduced in the US House of Representatives, which referenced the principles enunciated by the FCC and authorized fines up to $750,000 for infractions. An attempt to amend the bill by Democrat Ed Markey with additional network neutrality regulations banning fee-based Quality of Service offerings was defeated 269-152.

[edit] Disputed Claims of Discriminatory Practices in the US and Elsewhere

Save The Internet, an advocacy organization led by media critic Free Press, has cited several situations as examples of discrimination by ISPs, including some in the US.

  • In 2005, Canadian telephone giant Telus blocked access to, a website supporting the company's labour union during a labour dispute, as well as over 600 other websites, for about sixteen hours.[23]
  • Shaw Cable, a major Canadian internet provider, offers a "quality of service" upgrade for their VoIP service. A number of competing VoIP providers have issued complaints that Shaw may be downgrading competitor's traffic[citation needed] No evidence has been offered to support any such claim.
  • In April, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned, an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail scheme. An AOL spokesman called the issue an unintentional "glitch."[24]
  • In February, 2006, some of Cox Cable's customers were unable to access Craig's List because of a so-called software bug in the Authentium personal firewall distributed by Cox Cable to improve customers' security. Save the Internet said this was an intentional act on the part of Cox Cable to protect classified ad services offered by its partners. The issue was resolved by correction of the software as well as a change in the network configuration used by Craig's List. Craig Newmark acknowledges this was not intentional.

[edit] Arguments of involved parties

Residential broadband providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T propose tiered service offerings, which they claim allow them to recoup their investment in the last mile of the Internet, and encourage future network development. Some claim that as bandwidth-intensive peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent become commonplace, the traditional Internet congestion management system, which was not designed to handle continuous, high-bandwidth usage, may no longer be viable, so alternate methods may become necessary. These alternate methods include bandwidth limits and priority-based Quality of Service for voice and video. Proponents of tiered pricing include some large communication companies, manufacturers of network equipment, academics, Internet engineers, and business-oriented interest groups. They argue that the Internet is in the midst of tremendous change due to fiber to the home, peer-to-peer applications, VoIP, and IPTV, and regulations offered to date are potentially damaging to network operation and investment.

Those favoring neutrality include some content providers such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, academics, Internet engineers, media reform and watchdog groups, musicians, most of the major public and consumer advocacy groups including Free Press, Consumers Union and Common Cause as well as right- and left-wing grassroots groups such as the Christian Coalition of America and Moveon. They contend that any non-neutral scheme could allow ISPs to unfairly discriminate and control which data they prioritize, such as data from their own sponsors or media interests, resulting in a two-tiered Internet. They generally claim that passage of the COPE Act turns control of the Internet over to the carriers, who will then convert it into something resembling cable TV.

[edit] Recent regulatory developments in the US

In the US Broadband services were once regulated differently according to the technology on which they were delivered. While cable Internet has always been classified by the FCC as an information service free of most regulation, DSL was once regulated as a telecommunications service subject to unbundling requirements. As the two types of networks have increasingly provided the same services, it has become difficult to justify different sets of rules, leading to the question of which rules should apply to both.

Towards the end of 2004, the US legal system voided the rules requiring telephone operators to unbundle certain parts of their networks at regulated prices, which had as a consequence the economic collapse of many competitors in access services[citation needed].

In America DSL and cable Internet access were formerly regulated by the FCC according to different rules, but in 2005 the FCC re-classified DSL according to the more permissive cable rules which was the same year that the US Supreme Court in Brand X upheld the classification of cable Internet access as an information service.

An additional regulatory complexity is that cable operators and telephone operators are competing beyond broadband Internet access: cable operators by providing telephone service, and telephone service providers by upgrading their networks with FTTX in order to provide enough bandwidth to support television services.

Advocates of network neutrality wish to re-classify both under the old rules for DSL, which require unbundling and several other restrictions. Opponents of these regulations, pointing to the technical progress and market success gained by cable under Information System guidelines, argue that the current regulatory situation is adequate. [citation needed]

[edit] Other aspects of "neutrality"

Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu observed the Internet is not neutral in terms of its impact on applications having different requirements. It is more beneficial for data applications than for applications that require low latency and low jitter, such as voice and video: "In a universe of applications, including both latency-sensitive and insensitive applications, it is difficult to regard the IP suite as truly neutral." In presenting this analysis Wu shifts focus away from the design of the network for application flexibility. He has proposed regulations on Internet access networks that define net neutrality as equal treatment among similar applications, rather than neutral transmissions regardless of applications. He proposes allowing broadband operators to make reasonable tradeoffs between the requirements of different applications, while regulators carefully scrutinize network operator behavior where local networks interconnect.[25]

In Wu's view of net neutrality, the network should adapt to the diverse needs of emerging applications; in Crawford's view the network's traditional service structure provides a flexible transport designed to support a broad variety of applications.

Professor Rob Frieden of Penn State University [19]offers a balanced assessment of the network neutrality debate with emphasis on the business and operational orientations embedded in telephone managers ("Bellheads") and Internet managers ("Netheads"). Professor Frieden also assesses the strengths and weaknesses of positions articulated by Professors Tim Wu and Chris Yoo. See Network Neutrality or Bias? - Handicapping the Odds for a Tiered and Branded Internet; available at:

[edit] Regulatory related considerations

The topic is complicated more by differing regulatory histories of the Internet versus most communications services. The Internet was essentially unregulated, while most telecommunications services were highly regulated. The "neutrality" debate in some sense represents a convergence in that carrier services are now much more deregulated, while neutrality advocates may bring more regulation to the Internet.

Some of the arguments associated with network neutrality regulations came into prominence in mid 2002, offered by the "High Tech Broadband Coalition", a group comprising developers for, Google, and Microsoft. However, the fuller concept of "Network neutrality" was developed mainly by legal academics, most prominently law professors Tim Wu and Lawrence Lessig and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, the first government official to endorse Network Neutrality. It is worth noting, however, that the ideas underlying Network Neutrality have a long pedigree in telecommunications regulation.

Proposals for network neutrality laws are generally opposed by the cable television and telephone industries, and some network engineers and free-market scholars from the conservative to libertarian, including Christopher Yoo and Adam Thierer. Opponents argue that (1) Network neutrality regulations severely limit the Internet's usefulness; (2) network neutrality regulations threaten to set a precedent for even more intrusive regulation of the Internet; (3) imposing such regulation will chill investment in competitive networks (e.g., wireless broadband) and deny network providers the ability to differentiate their services; and (4) that network neutrality regulations confuse the unregulated Internet with the highly regulated telecom lines that it has shared with voice and cable customers for most of its history.

According to this view, the Internet has succeeded in attracting users and applications because it has been an oasis of deregulation in the midst of a highly regulated telecom market. Critics of Internet regulation in the name of "net neutrality" also say the Internet is much less neutral than proponents claim, pointing to such practices as the Type of Service header in the IP Datagram, the practice of active queuing described in RFC 2309 and the existence of Integrated Services and Differentiated Services enabling Quality of Service over IP. According to this view, the Internet is still very weak at meeting the needs of real-time and multimedia applications, and its continued evolution is stymied by the onerous regulations proposed in the name of network neutrality.

These views may be said to contrast with the historical development of network neutrality, which involves a retreat from intrusive regulation, and expanded investment in network construction, consumer and business subscriptions, and the technology sector which requires an open and neutral platform for its business model; they may also be said to more accurately describe the Internet as it has been and may become if not stifled by overly-zealous regulation.

There is also the issue of regulatory capture, where the supposedly regulated entities manipulate the system to their advantage (through political power gained by campaign contributions or independent expenditures), either over competitors, or in collusion with them, largely to increase profits and/or exclude market entrants (partcularly those employing new technologies). This exclusion and control by various means has been shown historically to be to the ultimate detriment of consumers, both from higher cost and from slowed innovation.

[edit] Legal history

Originally, the Internet was not legally available for commercial use. It became available in the late 1980s.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, consumers and businesses began to attach new devices to their internet connections, and use internet services that were not in existence in the mid-1990s.

One reaction of many broadband operators was to impose various contractual limits on the activities of their subscribers. In the best known examples, Cox Cable disciplined users of virtual private networks (VPNs) and AT&T, as a cable operator, warned customers that using a Wi-Fi service for home-networking constituted "theft of service" and a federal crime.[25] Comcast blocked ports of VPNs, forcing the state of Washington, for example, to contract with telecommunications providers to ensure that its employees had access to unimpeded broadband for telecommuting applications.

These early instances of "broadband discrimination" prompted both academic and government responses. FCC Chairman Michael Powell in 2004 announced a new set of non-discrimination principles, which he called the principles of "Network Freedom." In a speech at the Silicon Flatirons Symposium in February 2004, Powell stated that consumers must have the following four freedoms:

  1. Freedom to access content.
  2. Freedom to run applications.
  3. Freedom to attach devices.
  4. Freedom to obtain service plan information.[26]

As remarked upon by David Isenberg,[27] Chairman Kevin Martin later modified these four freedoms to read:

  1. Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice;
  2. Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;
  3. Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and
  4. Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

On August 5, 2005, the FCC adopted a policy statement stating its adherence to these principles.[16]

Under pressure from the FCC and consumer groups, the broadband operators generally relaxed their most glaring restrictions on network usage.

In early 2005, in the Madison River case, the FCC for the first time showed a willingness to enforce its network neutrality principles by opening an investigation about Madison River Communications, a local telephone carrier that was blocking voice over IP service. While it is often thought that the FCC fined Madison River Communications following the investigation, it did not. The investigation was closed before any formal factual or legal finding. Instead, there was a settlement in which the company agreed to stop discriminating against voice over IP traffic and to make a $15,000 payment to the US Treasury in exchange for the FCC dropping its inquiry. Since the FCC did not formally establish that Madison River Communications violated laws and regulation, the Madison River settlement does not create a precedent. Nevertheless, the FCC's action established that it would not sit idly by if other US operators discriminated against voice over IP traffic.

[edit] Congress

By late 2005, network neutrality regulations were included in several Congressional draft bills, as a part of ongoing proposals to reform the Telecommunications Act of 1996. They would generally require internet providers to allow consumers access to any application, content, or service. However, important exceptions allow providers to discriminate for security purposes, or to offer specialized services like "broadband video" service. These regulations generally forbid ISPs from offering different service plans to their customers.

In April 2006 a large coalition of bloggers, educators and citizen/consumer-oriented advocacy groups -- such as Free Press, American Library Association, Consumers Union and MoveOn -- created "Save The Internet," a grassroots coalition supporting network neutrality regulations. Within two months of its establishment, over 1,000,000 signatures were delivered to Congress in favor of a network neutrality. Campaigns have also been launched by content providers (including Google, eBay, Microsoft, Yahoo! and in support of neutrality and regulation, and by service providers (including AT&T and Verizon) against it. The service provider groups, including "Hands off the Internet," have been labeled "Astroturf" for accepting corporate money to create the false appearance of grass-roots support for their issue.

The following legislative proposals have been introduced in Congress to address the network neutrality question:

Title Bill number Date introduced Sponsors Provisions Status
Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006[28][29] S. 2360 March 2, 2006 Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) Prohibits blocking or modification of data in transit, except to filter spam, malware, and illegal content; mandates common-carrier rules for subscriber network operators.
Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006[30][31] H.R. 5252 March 30, 2006 Joe Barton (R-Texas and Chairman of the House Commerce Committee) Proposes to create a national franchise for video providers, and additionally addresses net neutrality, e911, and municipal broadband. Passed 321-101 by the full House of Representatives on June 8, 2006- but with the Network Neutrality provisions of the Markey Amendment removed
Network Neutrality Act of 2006[32] H.R. 5273 April 3, 2006 Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) Amends the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE) to make its existing neutrality provisions more strict. Defeated 34-22 in committee with Republicans and some Democrats opposing, most Democrats supporting.[33]
Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006[34] S. 2686 May 1, 2006 Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) Aims to amend the Communications Act of 1934 and addresses net neutrality by directing the FCC to conduct a study of abusive business practices predicted by the Save the Internet coalition and similar groups. Sent to the full Senate in a 15-7 committee vote and defeated by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation on June 28, 2006.
Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006[35] H.R. 5417 May 18, 2006 Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), John Conyers (D-Michigan) Makes it a violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act for broadband providers to discriminate against any web traffic, refuse to connect to other providers, block or impair specific (legal) content; prohibits the use of admission control to determine network traffic priority. Approved 20-13 by the House Judiciary committee on May 25, 2006.
Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006 (casually known as the Snowe-Dorgan bill)[36] S. 2917 May 19, 2006 Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) Amends the Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006. Introduces more rigid net-neutral standards including a ban on the blocking/degradation of lawful content, and a ban on QoS deals between network providers and specific content providers. States that FCC would be responsible for enforcing complaints and conducting reports on the state of the broadband market.

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California), one of the Democrats who voted for the Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill, said: "I think the bill is a blunt instrument, and yet I think it does send a message that it's important to attain jurisdiction for the Justice Department and for antitrust issues."[37]

[edit] Neutrality as law

Net neutrality in the common carrier sense has been instantiated into law in many countries, including the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Japan, but none of these countries bans tiered service plans as American regulations would. In Japan, for example, the nation's largest phone company, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, operates a service called Flet's Square over their FTTH high speed internet connections that serves video on demand at speeds and levels of service higher than generic internet traffic.[38]

In the United States, New York has established net neutrality as a telecommunications standard (See 16 NYCRR Part 605). Many advocates have spoken loudly on its behalf. This, combined with worries over favoritism by telecoms, prompted Congress to begin hearings on the subject.

On February 7, 2006, Congress called upon prominent members of the technology industry to testify on behalf of the standard, including Vinton Cerf, a co-inventor of the Internet Protocol (IP), and current Vice President and "Chief Internet Evangelist" at Google. In his testimony, he said, "allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success."[39]

Critics regarded Dr. Cerf's testimony as hyperbolic, since only one example of the abusive behavior he decries has ever been recorded in the US (see the F.C.C. Consent Decree in In the matter of Madison River Communications, LLC[40]).

The proposals for implementing network neutrality have since taken the form of various laws and regulations to govern Internet communications, including commercial interconnection agreements between Internet Service Providers (ISPs), carriers, on-line service providers, and broadband users, usually on the basis of principles of public service obligations associated with special access to public rights of way. In this sense, network neutrality means a state in which Internet providers provide interconnection services on a uniform basis, or "without discrimination", although there is considerable disagreement about how this principle applies to applications with different needs.[41]

[edit] Advocates and opponents

An electronic petition supporting net neutrality has over one million signatures and several hundred organizations also support it. A broad coalition of leading voices including Steve Wozniak, Susan Crawford, and David Reed have endorsed a distinctive legislative proposal for net neutrality.[42] Most of the major internet application companies are advocates of neutrality regulations, including IAC/InterActiveCorp, Ebay, Amazon, Yahoo!, YouTube, Earthlink and especially Google. Software giant Microsoft has also taken a stance in support of neutrality regulation.[43] Non-profits in support include, Consumer Federation of America, AARP, American Library Association, Gun Owners of America, Public Knowledge, the Media Access Project, Free Press, the Christian Coalition, and TechNet.[44][45][46] Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web) has also spoken out in favor of net neutrality.

Common carrier implications of network neutrality regulation is strongly opposed by the Bell companies and by some major cable companies. They view non-discrimination as compelled speech prohibited by the First Amendment because they think that cases like Chesapeake and Potomac and even Turner Broadcasting v. FCC stands for the rule that Telcos and Cablecos are First Amendment speakers, and as such cannot be compelled to promote speech they disagree with. Cable operators, like Comcast have taken a somewhat mixed position -- they have repeatedly affirmed that they consider neutral networks desirable, but think regulation is a mistake. The Bells, on the other hand, have actively pushed for tiered networks, arguing that they're more application-neutral than the idealized TCP/IP Internet.

Non-profit pro free-market organizations, including the Freedom Works Foundation, National Black Chamber of Commerce, Progress and Freedom Foundation, New American Century (also referred to as PNAC), and the Ludwig von Mises Institute oppose neutrality regulations.[47][48][49][50] The Weekly Standard hasn't taken a side, arguing that using eminent domain against the Telcos is the best alternative.[51]

Finally, network equipment manufacturers such as Cisco, 3M, and the National Association of Manufacturers believe neutrality regulations are premature. However, observers such as Democratic Media point out that manufacturers have much to gain with a revamped network architecture: offerings like Cisco's Service Exchange Framework promise significant new revenue opportunities should the rules of net neutrality change.[52]

Some U.S. technology trade associations have remained noncommittal on the issue. The U.S. financial sector has similarly remained neutral, though advocates hope this will change as the heavily Internet-dependent banking industry considers both sides of the debate.[53]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ State Level Net Neutrality, Joho the Blog, David Weinberger
  2. ^ Internet Freedom Preservation Act, AKA Snowe-Dorgan Amendment
  4. ^ Tim Berners Lee Blog entry on Network Neutrality real mp4
  5. ^
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ Isenberg, David (1996-08-01). The Rise of the Stupid Network (HTML). Retrieved on 2006-08-19.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Oram, Andy (2002-06-11). A Nice Way to Get Network Quality of Service? (HTML). O'Reilly®.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Bachula, Gary (2006-02-07). Testimony of Gary R. Bachula, Vice President, Internet2 (PDF) pp. 5. Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  16. ^ a b Federal Communications Commission (2005-08-05). New Principles Preserve and Promote the Open and Interconnected Nature of Public Internet (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  17. ^ Various (2006-08-31). Scenarios for the Network Neutrality Arms Race (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-09-06.
  18. ^ Network Neutrality by James Seng
  19. ^ "The Coming Tug of War Over the Internet" Washington Post by Christopher Stern
  20. ^ Various (2006-06-20). Endorsers of Proposed Internet Platform for Innovation Act (HTML). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  21. ^ "Is Net Neutrality Bad for National Preparedness?", K. A. Taipale, Center for Advanced Studies in Sci. & Tech. Policy Research Brief No. 06-14 (June 2006)
  22. ^ Cogent Communications, Inc. Net Neutrality Policy Statement (HTML). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  23. ^ "Telus cuts subscriber access to pro-union website", CBC News, 2005-07-24. Retrieved on 2006-07-10.
  24. ^ "AOL charged with blocking opponents' e-mail", ZDNet News, 2006-04-13. Retrieved on 2006-07-10.
  25. ^ a b Wu, Tim, "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination." Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law Vol. 2, p. 141 (2005).
  26. ^ Powell, Michael (2004-02-08). Preserving Internet Freedom: Guiding Principles for the Industry (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  27. ^ Isenberg, David (2005-08-07). How Martin's FCC is different from Powell's (HTML). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  28. ^ Wyden, Ron (2006-03-02). Wyden Moves to Ensure Fairness of Internet Usage with New Net Neutrality Bill (HTML). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  29. ^
  30. ^ U.S. Government Printing Office (2006-05-15). FULL TEXT of Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (H.R. 5252) (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-08-11.
  31. ^ Upton, Fred (2006-03-30). Upton Hearing Examines Bipartisan Bill that Will Bring Choice & Competition to Video Services (HTML). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  32. ^ Markey, Ed (2006-04-03). Markey Network Neutrality Amendment (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  33. ^
  34. ^ Stevens, Ted (2006-05-01). Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  35. ^ [4]
  36. ^ U.S. Government Printing Office (2006-05-19). FULL TEXT of Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006 (S. 2917) (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-08-11.
  37. ^ "House panel votes for Net neutrality", CNET, 2006-05-25. Retrieved on 2006-05-30.
  38. ^ [5]
  39. ^ Cerf, Vinton (2006-02-07). The Testimony of Mr. Vinton Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google (PDF) pp. 8. Retrieved on 2006-05-11.
  40. ^ [6]
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^ Broache, Anne. "Push for Net neutrality mandate grows", CNET News, 2006-03-17. Retrieved on 2006-07-09.
  45. ^
  46. ^ Sacco, Al (2006-06-09). U.S. House Shoots Down Net Neutrality Provision. Retrieved on 2006-07-09.
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ Swanson, Tim (2006-06-12). What To Think About Reregulation?. Mises Economics Blog. Retrieved on 2006-07-09.
  51. ^ Kessler, Andy. "Give Me Bandwidth...", The Weekly Standard, 2006-06-26. Retrieved on 2006-07-09.
  52. ^
  53. ^ Schor, Elana. "Finance firms may weigh in on net-neutrality battle", The Hill (newspaper), 2006-05-03. Retrieved on 2006-07-09.

[edit] External links

[edit] Academic Papers

[edit] Government documents, speeches, testimony

[edit] News and magazine articles

[edit] Papers from political organizations

[edit] Television shows and videos

[edit] Websites and articles supporting net neutrality

[edit] Websites and articles opposing net neutrality

[edit] Commentary and blog articles

[edit] Lists of articles

[edit] Not yet classified

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