What's new, new media?

Network Neutrality refers to the principle of an Internet with no "artificial" barriers between web users and the content they access through the medium. A neutral Internt, is commonly associated with the Internet we currently (June 2006) enjoy. One where no telecommunications provider/carrier is permitted to slow, degrade or block any form of online content, ensuring that web consumers enjoy an equal opportunity to view content and use services from all providers. This system is also referred to as a "Best Effort Internet."

A non-neutral, a two-tiered or simply tiered Internet by contrast would be an Internet different from the current model in that each carrier would have the power to block, degrade or slow service (or alternatively to boost, speed and promote service) for any individual content provider. The common assumption is that carriers would promote their own content services, or those of providers who enter into economic relationships with them directly. The assumption that this incentive exists is hotly debated however.

Is there an incentive to discriminate?[]

The telecommunications carrers argue there is no incentive to discriminate. Simple market principles dictate that if one carrier blocks or degrades content and service, consumers will drop that carrier in favor of another who doesn't. Advocates of not regulating the Internet (those against enforcing neutrality via legislation) sometimes refer to neutrality as a "problem in search of a solution." Inferring the movement to make neutrality a matter of law enforcment will prematurely and potentially negatively affect the future growth of the Internet. The primary anti-neutrality lobbying organization is this titled "Hands of the Internet."[1]

Neutrality advocates believe there is already evidence that carriers have violated neutrality principles, although the evidence is not widespread. Additionally there are reports of big carriers spending millions developing an infrastructure to support tiered levels of service.

Those in favor of net neutrality find incentive for discrimination in simple economics as well. They believe the big carriers will use their oligopic hold over bandwidth access to leverage income from content providers. AT&T Chairman Ed Whitacre now infamously said:

""Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using..."

The "they" he was referring to are content providers. Although Whitacre's comments, and the debate in general is positioned between the big telecommunication giants and the big content providers like Google, Yahoo, Vonoage, Amazon, eBay, etc., the Internet's content providers also include bloggers, social networking sites, small business operations and literally every person and organization that authors a website. Ironically, although it is the giant content providers who are most vehemently backing neutrality legislation, it is commonly assumed that should a "tiered" internet emerge, it would be the small content provider unable to afford access to premium service. One of the primary arguments for neutrality legislation is that it protects the next generation of web innovation, by allowing future products and services to enter the marketplace without the handicap of degraded service.

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