Whilst much attention about the internet and the use of information has been focussed on the Wikileaks story, another more long running concern about the web continues to bubble along.
The outcome of this could affect the way we all gain access to the internet and also what content is available to you at the end of the day.
The fear is that, over time, the internet will become two or more tier system, with those paying more getting faster and better access to more information than those at the lower end. There is also the fear that Internet Service Providers, hardware providers and advertisers will end up colluding, either by design or default, to control what information people see and who benefits from the advertising revenue. The ultimate being that choice becomes limited especially at the lower price end of the spectrum.
The concept of net neutrality is that all internet traffic should be treated equally. But there seem to be many definitions of this. Is it the Professor Susan Crawford of the Michigan Law School approach of 'first come first served'? Or the Professor Tim Wu of the Columbia Law School's view of treating all content, sites and platforms equally?
How much control for example should an ISP have over which browser you use, or which document reader you view through? Should they be able to limit your access to competitive web-sites and software?
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a broadband policy, which states that consumers are entitled to:
- access the lawful Internet content of their choice
- run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
- connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
- competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
Shortened to any lawful content, application, device and provider.
Many people believe that net neutrality is a must, whilst others argue that giving preferential treatment to higher payers will, in the long run, benefit all due to the revenue raised.
But how would we achieve true net neutrality if that's what we wanted to do? By letting providers have total freedom to do what they want allowing competition and choice to regulate these issues? Or by putting regulations in place to enforce it? We all know just by looking at the banking industry what can happen with legislation and guidelines.
The whole issue seems to be a mix of whether net neutrality is good or bad and, if it is, whether legislation is the right way forward to protect it and if so how much.
Whatever the outcome, the internet 'wild west' is now being seriously eyed by big business and lawmakers for taming. The real surprise is that it has taken this long for it to happen. Maybe the focus should be on the size of the likes of Google and AT&T.
But first we need to decide what it is we all want out of the internet, not just what big business and government wants. Then decide what rights we have to that and defend them to the hilt.