Free Essay About Net Neutrality
Net neutrality is a principle which guides how internet users, service, providers, regulators and governments on the way they treat data. Net neutrality states that data on the internet should be treated equally with no price discrimination in regard to content, platform, site, application, and mode of communication or attached equipment. The term Net neutrality was coined by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University of Media Law in 2003 as an extension to the common carrier principle (Marsden 5). In the recent past, internet service providers have been accused of violating net neutrality by discriminatively slowing down connection speeds for commercial gains. This is a paper on net neutrality. Special focus is given to pertinent issues associated with net neutrality and how they affect the concerned stakeholders.
The internet is a resource that can support online investment, provide thousands of jobs, and encourage development of education and dissemination of knowledge. Laws have been legislated all over the world which ensure or threaten net neutrality. Internet control limits its potential as a common entrepreneurial platform and makes it prone to manipulation.
Governments, internet service providers, internet based companies, and internet users are all stakeholders in net neutrality. Governments control internet usage in order to intercept illegal activities while service providers aim for higher profits. Internet control curtails net neutrality and adversely affects users’ online experience and infringes on their rights.
Principles of net neutrality
Principles of net neutrality are hinged on the concept of equal treatment of content, websites, platforms, and users. The individual principles which affect net neutrality are:
An open internet means that all resources available online and the means to conduct business on a web based platform are freely available to everyone. An open internet encourages transparency, open standards, and reduces barriers to entry and internet censorship. Open internet is an essential aspect of net neutrality as it embodies the principles of open web standards and equal treatment of content (Marsden 7). This allows internet users to freely conduct their business and interact with each other without a third party bearing down on them. Conversely, a closed internet refers to a situation whereby third parties such an internet service providers or governments, artificially control internet speeds, restrict access to basic web standards, and filter out selected content for some particular reasons (10).
The term dump pipe was coined in the early 1990s to depict a dumb network made of dumb pipes. The term dumb network means that intelligence lies on the endpoints, and that the utility of the network depends on the operation and management by the end users. Metro Tech Net coined the term dumb wave as an extension of the dumb network. Dumb wave depicts wireless service providers who do not add value to the product and thus cannot charge premium rates for their services (Marsden 13).
Traffic shaping is the artificial manipulation of a network in order to optimize performance, reduce latency, and increase bandwidth by reducing the speeds of selected data packets. Traffic shaping imposes restrictions to packet flow so that they can conform to a predetermined traffic profile. Traffic shaping enables network operators to practice bandwidth throttling and regulate the maximum rate at which traffic is sent across the network, also known as rate limiting (Marsden 15).
Issues of net neutrality
Net neutrality is associated with much controversy because it limits control and manipulation of content and data speeds. Some of the issues associated with net neutrality are:
Control of content by service providers
Internet service providers can, through traffic shaping, control the content reaching the end users of the internet or selectively block content. Big telecommunication companies can engage in malicious content control in order to stifle competition and give themselves an undue advantage in the market. These companies block the content and online applications of competing businesses on their platform while at the same time increasing access to their products through discriminative speed allocation.
In America, Comcast, an internet service provider, has been repeatedly accused of prioritizing its own content against similar content that it delivers on its network. The internet company supports four different videos streaming applications; HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu, and its own Xfinity (Sankin par.6). Customers observed that streaming videos through the Xfinity app did not count towards their Comcast data cap while all the others had capped usage. Also, it was reported that the company and made a deal with Netflix to increase data speed so that viewers could enjoy better viewing on its platform (46).
Another example of content control by service providers occurred in 2007 when Verizon banned an abortion rights group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, from campaigning on its network. NARAL was using mobile networks to collect donations for their cause and had received permission to campaign on all major cellular networks. Verizon barred NARAL from using their platform stating that it does not support issue oriented campaigns such as war and abortion. Though the company later rescinded its decision due to public uproar, the case highlighted the harmful effects of content control by service providers (Sankin par. 8)
Issue of competition and innovation
Net neutrality campaigners argue that internet service providers (ISP) act as gatekeepers when allowed to control internet speeds based on rates charged. This they say will create an exploitative business model where the providers can charge websites for access and can also block or throttle competitors’ websites and content. The ISPs may also block websites of those who refuse or are unable to pay. This situation has manifested itself in cable television industry. Companies such as Comcast reserve bandwidth for their own pay television services while restricting access to other similar businesses.
Net neutrality campaigners also argue that preferential treatment of traffic, also referred to as tiered service, threatens the existence of smaller online companies and hinder innovation. The lack of net neutrality will change online business orientation from innovation to profits and deal making. Conversely, net neutrality puts all the online players on a plain ground, which spurs competition and innovation. ISPs should not be the determiners of a business success or failure, but rather the business’ website and its content quality.
Abolishing net neutrality would turn online businesses to cable television-like models where few big telecommunication companies control the content delivered. If the situation is left unchecked, these companies could control what is viewed and how much it costs to view it. Secure content distribution and access for industries such as healthcare, finance, gambling, and retailing would attract hefty charges from such companies due to the price inelasticity of such services.
Majority of world renowned internet innovators worked from their home garages with little capital and big ideas and visions. They managed to achieve this because net neutrality protected them from interference by network operators, ensured maximal competition and allowed contribution from far flung innovators.
The issue of deep packet inspection
Deep packet inspection, also referred to as information eXtraction or complete packet inspection, is a technology that enables internet service providers to examine data flowing in their networks. Deep packet inspection technology has been used for positive and negative purposes by network companies. Some of the positive uses of the technology include inspection of data parts such as the header of a packet as it goes through the inspection points. This helps in detection of viruses, hacking attacks, and spam. The technology has also been used for collection of statistical data.
Deep packet inspection has a down side too. The technology has enabled data mining, internet censorship, and eavesdropping. Net neutrality advocates argue that such practices amount to infringement of privacy and anticompetitive business environment, which reduce the internet’s openness. Deep packet inspection is being used by service providers, large institutions, and governments to collect data on unsuspecting internet users.
Effects of net neutrality
Effect of net neutrality on service providers
Internet service providers oppose net neutrality because it would lower their profits. From a technological aspect, the cost cutting measures that ensue limit their ability to employ new and effective technologies in deploying their services. These include the use of innovative network management technologies, provision of high quality services, and delivery of new services and features to meet the needs of a dynamic market (Marsden 55).
Currently, the internet is used by millions of people all over the world. Internet connectivity is essential in the lives of many people as it keeps them informed, entertained, and connected. It is the service providers’ responsibility to ensure that people have access to reliable internet connection.
With increase in internet users, the bandwidth requirement also continues to grow. This is because internet applications continue to grow every day and thus the demand for high quality services such as high definition video streaming, peer to peer content sharing, and interactive gaming. The usage of such internet services causes data traffic congestion which necessitates infrastructure improvement and development (Marsden 60).
In order to sort through different data requirements for different customers, service providers use technologies which differentiate data types and sources. These technologies enable data scheduling and prioritizing in order to enhance network management and offer premium services. Net neutrality advocates are against the said scheduling and prioritizing and recommends banning of internet offered on a broadband platform. Also, they want strict restrictions on prices, terms, and conditions set by broadband internet providers. They believe it’s wrong for the service providers to limit bandwidth or service or create multiple internet experiences depending on rates paid.
While such restrictions might be beneficial to the customers, they might be counterproductive to service delivery. One of the internet’s most alluring factor that appeals to investors is its open nature that encourages innovation and creativity. Services and devices that use the internet are developed depending on their marketability. Limitations will reduce the competitiveness in online industries as the market for the products will no longer be available. Conversely, allowing broadband providers to innovate independently and differentiate their products will enable provision of enhanced services and a wider and richer range of content.
Net neutrality and internet users
Net neutrality is supposed to protect the rights of the internet users in terms of indiscriminate data access, privacy, and data cost. Neutrality advocates fear that internet service providers have too much power over what goes through their networks and therefore can use that power to control data flow for monopolistic agendas. Telecommunications companies, such as Comcast, limit their competitors’ content consumption by end users through data caps, also referred to as zero rating (Marsden 64). By doing so, these companies stifle competition and maximize their profits. Apart from being unethical, the practice denies internet users access to a range of options such that they have to stick to their service provider’s content. Other content providers who do not own their own distribution network are at the mercy of the service providers.
Service providers have violated net neutrality through data mining and selling the content to third party advertisers. In 2013, Google was accused of selling student data to advertisers. Software companies such as Google offer free services to students such as storage, email, games, and chat service. But these services come at a price because the companies get to scan the content that the students upload to their networks and profit from its sale to advertisers (Telbis par. 4). Advertising revenue accounted for 91% of Google’s $55.5 billion revenue in 2013. A big percentage of this money was likely derived from some of the 30 million students worldwide (Mcdougall par. 6).
Also, deep packet inspection technology has been used by government agencies to eavesdrop on citizens. National Security Agency (NSA) was sued in 2013 for data mining domestic phone records, after exposure by its former employee, Edward Snowden. The agency’s actions were found unconstitutional by the courts though the use of phone records was ruled as constitutional, based by precedents set on a similar case in 1979 (Mears and Perez par. 4). Through data mining and eavesdropping, it was argued that the NSA infringed on the privacy of telecommunication network users, which is a basic right.
Net neutrality has played a big role in ensuring fairness in online businesses. Enforcement of restrictions to internet service providers has ensured that they do not gain undue advantage through unethical business practices such as bandwidth throttling and content suppression. Also, net neutrality protects internet users from exploitation by service providers who mine personal data and sell it to advertisers. However, net neutrality should be tempered with caution. Indiscriminate application of net neutrality restrictions on service providers can be counterproductive as some services and products might require special conditions and treatment. New technologies might cost the service providers more and require dedicated bandwidths, which might warrant higher prices and faster data speeds compared to ordinary services. A common ground on internet usage should be sought by all the concerned stakeholders to ensure fairness and equality.
Mears, Bill and Perez, Evan. “Judge: NSA domestic phone data-mining unconstitutional.” CNN. CNN International Edition, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 9 April 2015.
Mcdougall, Bruce. “Parents step up fight against data mining in schools.” The Daily Telegraph. n.p., 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 April 2015.
Telbis, Rozali. “Lawsuit Against Google Highlights Mining of Student Data.” CorpWatch. n.p. 26 May 2014. Web. 9 April 2015.
Sankin, Aaron. “The worst net neutrality violations in history.” The Daily Dot. n.p. 21 May 2014. Web. 9 April 2015.
Marsden, Christopher T. Net Neutrality: Towards a Co-Regulatory Solution. , 2010. Internet resource.