What is a neutral internet?

As technology continues to expand into our everyday lives, how it is being used is becoming more and more debatable. Net neutrality is one of those debatable topics; and it leans less towards “what’s technical” and more towards “what is ethical”.

Should, or should not, the internet be view as a neutral infrastructure? And how is this going affect businesses and consumers (end users) alike? But, before venturing forward, let us look back at what was the internet (as it is compared to today).

The internet, as a whole, is one giant network. Connected devices, like switches and routers, come together to create networks that are used for sending information from one location to the next. In the beginning, these networks did not try to distinguish between the different types of data (video, audio, text, etc); this lack of intelligence coined the term “dumb networks”.

As networks grew larger, data management became a necessity. It was no longer efficient to treat all data the same. Quality-of-service (QoS) needed to be implemented; especially in networks that hosted technologies like Voice-over-IP (internet phone). This lead to the design and implementation of “smart networks”; where data can be managed at the application, the protocol and even the address level.

Data was now on longer just data. But, how did the advancement for smarter networks became a debate over ethics?

It all started about the same time when the internet became more that just a place for sending emails. Small companies, like Netflix, became heavy-weight contenders for the mainstream market: many times going up against the very corporations (ISPs) whose infrastructure they were using. At the sametime traffic revolving around video and music content (also gaming) increased exponentially, placing a strain on many of the ISPs’ infrastructures. Soon ISPs were complaining that they could not maintain (their networks) with the current pricing plans, and the service providers would also have to start paying. Service providers (Netflix) resisted, saying, if their customers are already paying, why should the ISPs charge twice for the same service. And, thus, began the debate over net- neutrality.

There are arguments and counter arguments. For example, ISPs claim that companies that use their infrastructure (more) should pay, which will lead to better services and happier customers; but this is counter by some, saying, if large companies have the option to pay for better performance, it will give them an advantage and suppress smaller competitors (who cannot pay), which in long term will lead to poorer quality and higher prices .

Which ever side you may take on the debate over net-neutrality, the argument will most likely boil down to what is best for the end user. Do you think if ISPs (also) charge service providers, it will lead to better services for the end user; or, will it create a means to suppress competition, which will eventually leave the us with fewer choices in the type of content we consume.



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