Net neutrality

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 12 November 2013

Introduction

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Network neutrality is a concept that refers to a neutral playing field (especially with respect to bandwidth availability) for anyone/everyone to access the Internet without discrimination. The term is rooted in the democratization of information access. Simply, net neutrality aims to treat all forms of Internet access, content, services and platforms equally, and stands against two-tiered access to web content (or, to use a metaphor, no slow and fast lanes, and separate costs for each). Further, the net neutrality argues that networks should carry all kinds of information and support all applications equally, and not to charge Internet users based on the amount of bandwidth used.

A central principle among advocates of net neutrality is the idea that the Internet is a public utility, and is similar in that sense to electricity, the telephone, television and radio. Further, its open architecture is an essential part of market innovation, economic growth, social discourse and the flow of ideas across nations. As an important source and platform for information dissemination, the web should therefore be protected against all forms of censorship and discrimination (including discriminating based on one's ability to pay for access). For many Internet users, open access to information on the web is a basic human right. In other words, net neutrality is a critical component of democracy, a free and open civil society and lifelong learning.

In Canada, the CRTC (Canadian Radio, Television, Telecommunications Commission) ruled in 2011 that usage-based billing would now be introduced. Prime Minister Harper said that "...we're very concerned about CRTC's decision on usage-based billing and its impact on consumers. I've asked for a review of the decision". Some have suggested that this adversely affects net neutrality, since it discriminates against media that relies on files of information that are larger in size, such as audio and video. The new ruling significantly throttles the availability of access by small business owners as they would have to pay for services.

More on "What is net neutrality"?

Issues pertaining to Canada 800px-Flag of Canada.svg.png

"...Canada’s Internet service providers (ISPs) are trying to deviate from the idea of leaving the Internet as a neutral playing field for those who upload and access content, which raises the question of how we, as users, want the Internet to work for us. Canadians must choose how the choose to understand the Internet: as a common conduit in which all information is treated equally, or as a place where preferential treatment is given to certain types of information and applications by the companies that control access to the Internet..."
"...Under the heading of “net neutrality” lies a whole range of questions affecting consumers and service providers. Fundamental issues of technology, economics, competition, access and freedom of speech are all involved . . . it is one of the polarizing issues of the day. It will have to be addressed and debated by all of us. (CRTC, 2008)

The laws that govern Canadian telecommunications prohibit “unjust discrimination” and interference with content by telecommunications carriers. However, they do not enforce net neutrality or prevent ISPs from offering tiered services to content providers. Should they do so, it would turn the internet into a two-tiered network on which corporate content is given priority over all other content. In the end, those with deep pockets will get the “fast lane”, while everyone else will get slower lanes.

Another problem is ISP “traffic-shaping”: a practice in which providers slow down certain types of traffic (such as peer-to-peer file sharing) to make space for other traffic on congested networks. This is seen by many as “unjust discrimination” under the Telecommunications Act and a violation of network neutrality, but providers continue to defend the practice.

The Canadian Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University and author of 'The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires' coined the term Net Neutrality. (Wu asks excellent questions such as "...whether the Internet should be made neutral -- and if so, how?...")

Net Neutrality websites in Canada 800px-Flag of Canada.svg.png

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