Network Neutrality

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What position do you advocate?

  • By COB Sunday, flesh out the arguments here. Respond to the arguments other parties make.

BT

Prioritization. Huge investments in network infrastructure. Because bandwidth is expensive, we need to prioritize, and we want to charge content providers for priority. Disney should pay us if they want to reach our customers faster. The basic premise is that every bit of internet traffic costs money and somebody should pay for it. We have three parties here; contents providers, contents consumers and network operators. Basically, consumers and contents providers get their economic surplus as the traffic increases while network operator gets nothing but a flat rate. BT is not a nation owned company any more - BT has its shareholders to serve and employees who rely on the revenue from the network service. Operators could not put up with the situation that the operators of the Internet is the biggest victim in the new economy - actually the Internet economy. The solution would be in metering of upward traffic for every consumers and contents providers. BT does not want to invest more on the infrastructure to convey meaningless ad banners that is more and more traffic consuming and voice traffics that cannibalise our own revenue of telephone.

Disney's proposal of two tier internet is interesting though. As Clark, one of authors of 'end-to-end argument', is working on the Internet2 (see http://www.technologyreview.com/infotech/wtr_16051,258,p1.html), let's see what he would come up with.

Facing competition, don't want to cut Google off (and make consumers flee). Squeeze the mid-sized guys.


Network Neutrality, BT

Disney

We're big enough to cut a deal with the ISPs. Besides, we provide exceptional content which our customers should be able to enjoy without any type of streaming issues. We would welcome a structure where-by we could ensure that our customers' desire for high quality content is fulfilled.

Our proposal is that that the ISPs begin a two-tiered system where the quality content providers (companies like ourselves) pay for a certain amount of guaranteed bandwidth and what is left over goes to the other providers. This would mean that those other providers would be limited in the quality (bit rate) by which they can stream data.

By limiting the quality of the 'second tier' providers, the levels of content copyright infringement should decline as customers will only have one location visit to watch their desired content at a high enough quality level. This will protect our future revenues and ensure that we have the financial capability to continue making high quality content.

Google

We speak for the users and their freedom. If we can't get neutral net from BT, we'll build our own, because we rely on user content.

Startup

[The entrepreneurs were omitted from the table/group assignments. A metaphor for the way they're often left out of the policy debate? ]

Think about the kinds of entry barriers that various network rules would impose.

Government

Internet is a utility, but bureaucrats aren't always good at regulating utilities. We'll think about it, form a committee and come back in 5 years. (BT sets its lobbyists to work.)

Public interest consumer group

The Internet is a utility. We don't allow Dyson to pay for priority electricity, we shouldn't allow Disney to pay for priority Internet.

Where do government subsidies fit into the picture?


-- Response 1:

Is there really a public interest in "network neutrality", or is it that the public interest lies merely on the non-prioritization of Internet bandwidth according to private interests?

But there is no difference between the former and the latter! - one would say. The non-prioritization of bandwidth IS network neutrality. Though, it could also be said that a neutral network is so much more than that...

I need to stake two ideas out before making my point. I will do this by raising some questions.

First, what do we mean by "the network"? Which layer are we focusing on? Is it merely the stupid part of the hourglass architecture - the internet protocols which were designed to preserve the end-to-end principle? Does it also involve the code and content, on the one hand, and wires, routers, spectrum etc., on the other, which are built on the top and bellow those protocols, respectively?

Second, if the Internet involves all these dimensions, can we be neutral in only one of them? If we say that law must ensure that the free and equal flow of information is enforced at the protocol layer, don't we risk having a restrictive and unequal concentration of semiotic power in the content layer? Don't we also risk having some very harmful content unfiltered? As to the former, let us have in mind the excessive concentration of power by Google, which arguably controls the way information flows in the net. Will we be being neutral if we need to limit the way this happens some day? With regard to the latter, let us have a terrorist organization, say, Al Qaeda, in mind. Will we have a neutral internet if content of this sort cannot be put through? Does StopBadware further a neutral Internet, or does it make/incentive choices on the flow of information according to its sources?

In sum, if what happens in one of the layers influences what happens in the others - if the Internet is all these layers, to ensure neutrality in one of the layers, we must ensure neutrality in all of them.

Being neutral, for political philosophy, means not to further a particular conception of the good; means not to make evaluative choices. A neutral Internet, then, is one in which no choices are made. But isn't the end-to-end principle, in itself, a choice?

Of the many definitions of "the Internet", the one which I like the most is that given by Searls and Weinberger in their "World of Ends". There, they say: "The Internet isn't a thing. It's an agreement".

There is no agreement without choice. And, IMHO, there is not such a thing as a neutral inter-network.

Trying to enforce one in the narrow, stupid layer of the protocols, may hinder the control of what happens in the other layers – may hamper consumer protection, may hamper generativity, may hamper... the public interest?

Are Google and the Public Interest really so interwined?

Big picture

Is this "rough consensus" or negotiation among established players?