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PC Backup : Net Neutrality Discussions Cast a Dark Shadow
Posted by Gene Amtower on 2010/1/22 1:33:11 (2339 reads)

Net Neutrality is a hot topic today in the news, in congress, and at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Here's what you need to know...

Net Neutrality is a hotly debated topic today, and there are many definitions being thrown around by the various parties with an interest in the outcome. How each party defines Net Neutrality is most likely dependent on what they have to gain and lose in the ultimate battle. So, boiling down the definition of Net Neutrality requires a careful assessment of the facts and claims being made by many people and organizations, and why they define Net Neutrality in their particular manner.

First let me be clear about my position on the topic...as a consumer myself, my view of Net Neutrality is about having the freedom to choose how I use my Internet connection - what I access online and how I access it. I buy my Internet connection by paying a monthly fee for a certain amount of bandwidth, which is the "speed" of my link. Personally, I don't have the fastest connection available, so I'm limited on how quickly I can send and receive information. If I want a faster connection (larger bandwidth), I can choose to pay for a faster connection. However, that's not the issue when I talk about Net Neutrality. Instead, to me it means that my Internet Service Provider (or ISP) should not be able to block any particular website or type of content that I send or receive across my connection. We'll talk about this more a little later...

Others don't necessarily share my viewpoint. Let's define the players involved and make sense of their viewpoints.

If you consider how you send and receive content on the Internet, understand that there are several parties involved in what might seem to be a simple "transaction" by you. When you request a single page on a website, several parties are impacted by your request. First, you pay an ISP for your link to the Internet so that your request can be sent. Secondly, the main pipeline that makes up the backbone of the Internet is owned by one or more other companies who agrees to provide for long distance Internet traffic between ISPs. Thirdly, there's another ISP involved at the other end of the request who provides the connection to a fourth company - a hosting provider who owns the server that contains the web page that you want to view.

Why is this important? Because each of these companies has invested some amount of money in hardware or software so that they can provide some part of this process and make money doing it. They make a profit based on what they charge to other companies or consumers for the privilege of using their hardware or software. As the Internet gains in popularity, the amount of traffic across each portion of the path continues to grow at an alarming rate. So, as companies wanting to make a profit, they are always looking for ways to charge more money in order to make a profit and justify their investment.

In the past, this wasn't as issue because the bandwidth demands were fairly constant and easy to manage. As the popularity of the Internet has taken off, the demand for bandwidth has grown considerably, causing many of these companies to look for creative ways to generate more income in order to continue to invest in more bandwidth and still make a profit. Wireless carriers (i.e. cellular phone companies) are facing this problem because they have had to invest very large amounts of money in wireless capabilities, so they have turned to charging extra for particular services.

So, when you buy a new smartphone and want to surf the Internet, you are using their equipment to reach the main pipeline of the Internet. So, in order to be able to pay for their investment in equipment and still make a profit, they have created special services that they then charge you to use.

Of course, whenever a source of their income is threatened, a company will fight for their right to charge for their services. Net Neutrality is just such a threat to them - they will be forced to allow you to go wherever you choose to get particular services, rather than being forced to buy that service from them. So, they are throwing around arguments against Net Neutrality that distort the true issue in an attempt at blocking any legislation that causes them to lose their hold on your money.

As an example, suppose you want to access a web site that provides music - without Net Neutrality, your wireless carrier can block your access to this site and force you to purchase music through a paid service that they provide to you as your carrier. If you had a choice of content providers and one of them was free, why would you pay them? Well, you wouldn't unless you didn't have a choice in the matter, and that's what they want to avoid.

Also, as a hosting provider myself, I also feel that I should be able to create any web content that is legal and have anyone be able to access my site. However, without Net Neutrality, any company involved anywhere along the Internet pathway could decide to keep me from serving my content openly and freely in order to promote competitive content, essentially keeping me out of the market for whatever that content might be.

So, the only groups who might benefit from a lack of Net Neutrality regulations are the carriers who might also want to charge their customers for exclusive content. In that context, it seems rather selfish of them to not be for Net Neutrality - let the best content win!

If you are concerned about Net Neutrality, please feel free to share your thoughts with us at PC Backup through the "Contact Us" form on this site.

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