05 August 2010

"Net Neutrality"

Following Wednesday's post about the role of government at the intersection of Marketing and the Internet comes the latest news about "net neutrality".

Net Neutrality

The actual term is "network neutrality", a concept where all Internet access would be treated equally. All access to all content would be available at the same speed. There's a complete article on Wikipedia describing it fully. In any case, it sounds like an appealing concept, doesn't it?

Not so fast...

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission tried to enforce net neutrality last year, but the courts ruled that the Internet falls outside their jurisdiction. The FCC regulates broadcast communications only, not even cable television, while the Internet counts as an "information service".

You get what you pay for

The opposite of net neutrality is a tiered system, where Internet users would pay their service providers a premium to access certain content faster. This would depend on an arrangement among Internet service providers such as Verizon, content providers and users willing to pay more.

The latest news

Since the FCC is powerless (for now) to enforce net neutrality, those who own the networks are starting to arrange tiered systems. This week the New York Times reported that Google and Verizon are close to such a deal; today Google and Verizon denied it, saying they were continuing to talk to the government. The FCC says that the talks are on hold for the moment.

What's my position on net neutrality?

No one can say how this will play out. The starry-eyed idealist in me wants to believe in net neutrality because it sounds fair and equal. Yet the Internet is not a government program, it's a commercial enterprise. Said differently, it's publishing.

If net neutrality had been applied to newspapers and magazines, then every consumer would have paid the same price for each magazine they received, no matter how premium the content or how many pages it required.

You may perceive that I haven't decided what I think about this. Please use the comments section to sway me to one side or the other.


  1. Who said "it's a commercial enterprise"? Where do you think this is a valid truth? The internet is a tool for communication from its very origins. Commercial enterprise comes after the fact. Take off your marketing hat please and see it for what it is.

  2. The ethos of the Internet was based on "free sharing of knowledge". A brave new world. But naive.
    The corporations have been puzzled and wasted a lot of money trying to work out how to own this thing they did not create.

    They were always going to win in the end. Now they have the bulldozers out. Dollars and dumbing down is their agenda.

  3. It might benefit everyone to stop and consider two facts. (1) The Internet was originally a military network (see Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet). (2) What Google and Verizon were going to control was not the Internet, but the cost of accessing it to their own subscribers.

    I agree with you both -- the Internet is not a commercial enterprise. I stand corrected. Access to it, however, is very much a business.

    Am I missing your point? Please help me understand your POV.

  4. Steve, your newspaper/magazine analogy is off. Under net neutrality, magazines could still charge whatever they want for a subscription. It is the cost of getting the content to the newsstand that is fixed.

    Net neutrality is a means of preserving the internet as it currently exists. I am curious why anyone would even consider altering it now. Isn’t the internet an unequivocal success? It is the very openness of the internet that makes it what it is. Just because the Verizons of the world are having a hard time profiting off it is not a reason to threaten its openness.

  5. Steve -

    Excellent question to ask. As much as I dislike it, it doesn't seem possible to continue to evaluate all traffic over the Internet equally. When my neighbor chooses to watch all of their TV over the net, my basic access for email slows down. Yet, we are both charge the same rate.

    It should, perhaps, surprise us more that the perception has developed that equal access to as much bandwidth as you want from the Internet is a right - as if it were part of the Bill of Rights.

    Some of your more extravagant writers here might do well to wonder if there isn't a utopian naivete that has been attached to the anarchy that seems to be desired in the web. And to remember that the web is the place where lies travel fastest and truth travels slowly. The web is the place where only the technologically savvy thrive and leave everyone else to struggle.

    It's tricky, because it IS quite sad that lack of Internet savvy and access have become part of being economically less well off.

    But all in all, quite a complicated issue. Perhaps tier is most appropriate. Basic internet, high volume personal use, corporate time sensitive use, etc...


  6. “Some of your more extravagant writers here might do well to wonder if there isn't a utopian naivete that has been attached to the anarchy that seems to be desired in the web. And to remember that the web is the place where lies travel fastest and truth travels slowly. The web is the place where only the technologically savvy thrive and leave everyone else to struggle.”

    What an astounding paragraph. Lies and truth travel at the exact same speed, people choose what they believe. How would tiers help this problem? Who is to say what is a truth and what is a lie? The corporation that can afford the best tier becomes the truth teller? I do spot naivete here. Openness is not the enemy of truth, but rather it is its savior.

    And the web is far from the only place where the savvy thrive.

  7. Hey Steve,
    Per your question on Adweek, here's are some links , in order, from Salon.com, Buzz Machine, NYT, Future of the Internet, and Mashable. Best, Keith






  8. Thank you, Keith! Here are two links passed along by friends.

    Someone not wild about Net Neutrality suggested:

    Someone who likes Net Neutrality suggested:

  9. The issue is bandwidth. Downloading a movie, thousands of songs, software, etc uses more bandwidth than email. Instead of "slowing" the download of high-bandwidth data packets, the IPSs simply have to charge by the MB or GB or TB, just like the phone companies do.

    Using this model will allow the market to decide instead of the government.