net neutrality

Network neutrality

Network neutrality

Network neutrality (equivalently net neutrality, Internet neutrality or simply NN) is a principle that is applied to residential broadband networks, and potentially to all networks. A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, on the modes of communication allowed, which does not restrict content, sites or platforms, and where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.

The possibility of regulations designed to mandate the neutrality of the Internet has been subject to fierce debate. Though the term did not enter popular use until several years later, since the early 2000s advocates of net neutrality and associated rules have engaged in mutual campaigns with broadband providers over the ability to use "last mile" infrastructure to block opposed internet applications, and content providers (e.g. websites, services, protocols), particularly those served by competitors. Neutrality proponents also claim that telecom companies seek to impose the tiered service model more for the purpose of profiting from their control of the pipeline rather than for any demand for their content or services. Others have stated that they believe net neutrality to be primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms. As Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, has stated, "The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. A lightweight but enforceable neutrality rule is needed to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive.

Critics, meanwhile, call net neutrality rules "a solution in search of a problem" and believe that net neutrality rules would reduce incentives to upgrade networks and launch next generation network services. Others argue that discrimination of some kinds, particularly to guarantee "Quality of Service," is not problematic, but highly desirable. Bob Kahn, Internet Protocol's co-inventor, has called the term "net neutrality" a slogan, and states that he opposes establishing it, warning that "nothing interesting can happen inside the net" if it passes: "If the goal is to encourage people to build new capabilities, then the party that takes the lead in building that new capability, is probably only going to have it on their net to start with and it is probably not going to be on anybody else's net."

In a June 2007 report, America's Federal Trade Commission urged restraint with respect to the new regulations proposed by network neutrality advocates, noting the "broadband industry is a relatively young and evolving one," and given no "significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm from conduct by broadband providers," such regulations "may well have adverse effects on consumer welfare, despite the good intentions of their proponents. In turn, the FTC conclusions have been questioned in Congress, as in September 2007, when Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate interstate commerce, trade and tourism subcommittee, told FTC Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras that he feared new services as groundbreaking as Google could not get started in a system with price discrimination.

Definitions of network neutrality

Advocates offer three principal definitions of network neutrality:

Absolute Non-Discrimination: Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu: "Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally."

Google's "Guide to Net Neutrality": "Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days... Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online."

Cardozo Law School professor Susan Crawford states that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regard for quality of service considerations.

Limited Discrimination without QoS Tiering: United States lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.

Limited Discrimination and Tiering: This approach allows higher fees for QoS as long as there is no exclusivity in service contracts. Sir Tim Berners-Lee: "If I pay to connect to the Net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality of service." "[We] each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me."

Applications of net neutrality


The term "net neutrality" (or "network neutrality") was coined in the early 2000s. However, advocates argue that the concept existed in the age of the telegraph. In 1860, a US federal law subsidizing a coast-to-coast telegraph line stated that

In 1888, the automatic telephone exchange was created by Almon Brown Strowger who is said to have created it to bypass biased telephone operators who diverted unsuspecting customers to his competitors. This automating created a "neutral" environment that was free from unseen tampering to telephone users.

The early roots of the Internet were created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA or DARPA), with ongoing support from government officials, as a United States military-funded research network (ARPANET) governed by an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) prohibiting commercial activity. In the early 1990s, it was privatized and the AUP was lifted for commercial users. The end-to-end principle of Internet networking, coined as early as 1983, argued that network intelligence did not preclude the need for intelligence in end systems, which allows the network to be both "dumb" and functional for many purposes.

The Internet2 project concluded, in 2001, that Quality of Service (Qos) technical protocols were probably not deployable on the Abilene Network with equipment available at the time. In 2003 Tim Wu published and popularized a proposal for a net neutrality rule, in his paper "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination." The paper considered network neutrality in terms of neutrality between applications, as well as neutrality between data and QoS-sensitive traffic, and proposed some legislation to potentially deal with these issues. In early 2005 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced network neutrality principles in a documented case of abuse involving Madison River Communications, a small DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) provider that briefly blocked VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol telephone) service.

In 2005, the FCC adopted a policy statement stating its adherence to four principles of network neutrality. In November 2005 Edward Whitacre, Jr., then Chief Executive Officer of SBC Communications, stated "there's going to have to be some mechanism for these [Internet upstarts] who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using", and that "The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment," sparking a furious debate. SBC spokesman Michael Balmoris said that Whitacre was misinterpreted and his comments only referred to new tiered services.

The Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006 would have made it a violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act for broadband providers to discriminate against any web traffic, refuse to connect to other providers, or block or impair specific (legal) content. It would also have prohibited the use of admission control to determine network traffic priority. The legislation was approved 20-13 by the House Judiciary committee on May 25, 2006, but was never taken up on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, and therefore failed to become law. A bill called the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, referencing the principles enunciated by the FCC and authorizing fines up to $750,000 for infractions, was passed 321-101 by the full House of Representatives on June 8, 2006, but failed to become law when its companion measure was filibustered in the U.S. Senate.

In October 2007, Comcast was found to be blocking or severely delaying BitTorrent uploads on their network using a technique which involved the network creating 'reset' packets (TCP RST) that appeared to come from the other party.

On February 25, 2008, Kevin Martin, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said that he is "ready, willing and able," to prevent broadband internet service providers from irrationally interfering with their subscribers' internet access.

On March 27, 2008, Comcast and BitTorrent reached an agreement to work together on network traffic. Comcast will adopt a protocol-neutral stance "as soon as the end of [2008]", and explore ways to "more effectively manage traffic on its network at peak times."

In August 2008 the following news was reported in THE WEEK:

No to Internet rationing
Internet service providers cannot ration service to heavy users of the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission ruled this week. The FCC said that Comcast, one of the largest Internet service providers, broke the law when it slowed the transfer of video files among a group of its customers to ensure that other customers had adequate bandwidth. The FCC ruled that Comcast had no right to act as Internet traffic cop.

Technology trends

Some contemporary trends in the use and provision of Internet services addressed by the debate are:

For users, some of the issues are the requirements of Voice over IP and online games for low latency bandwidth; the increasing use of high bandwidth applications, such as online games, and music and video downloading; and the increasing use of wireless home networks, which allow neighbors to share an Internet connection, thereby (in some cases) reducing revenues for the service providers, though raising it in others. In urban areas this factor can be very large, with a large number of people sharing one individual person's connection, although performance often is poor.

For service providers some of the issues are an increasing use of traffic shaping by many or most broadband providers to control Peer-to-peer and other services; improvements in networking technology, which make providing broadband service, on the aggregate, cheaper; high bandwidth video and audio telecommunications over the Internet (including Voice over IP technology), which threaten the land line revenues of Telco Internet service providers; and deploying content filtering technology to stop spam and other attacks.

For governments some of the issues are funding the construction of high-speed networks in countries like South Korea and France and enabling cities and other areas to build their own wireless networks. In addition, government regulatory bodies have an interest keeping abreast of changes in net neutrality.

Quality of service and Internet protocols

Internet routers forward packets according to the diverse peering and transport agreements that exist between network operators. Many networks using Internet protocols now employ quality of service (QoS), and Network Service Providers frequently enter into Service Level Agreements with each other embracing some sort of QoS.

There is no single, uniform method of interconnecting networks using IP, and not all networks that use IP are part of the Internet. IPTV networks such as AT&T's U-Verse service are isolated from the Internet, and are therefore not covered by network neutrality agreements.

The IP datagram includes a 3-bit wide Precedence field and a larger DiffServ Code Point that are used to request a level of service, consistent with the notion that protocols in a layered architecture offer services through Service Access Points. This field is sometimes ignored, especially if it requests a level of service outside the originating network's contract with the receiving network. It is commonly used in private networks, especially those including WiFi networks where priority is enforced. While there are several ways of communicating service levels across Internet connections, such as SIP, RSVP, IEEE 802.11e, and MPLS, the most common scheme combines SIP and DSCP. Router manufacturers now sell routers that have logic enabling them to route traffic for various Classes of Service at "wire-speed."

With the emergence of multimedia, VoIP, and other applications that benefit from low latency, various attempts to address the inability of some private networks to limit latency have arisen, including the proposition of offering tiered service levels that would shape Internet transmissions at the network layer based on application type. These efforts are ongoing, and are starting to yield results as wholesale Internet transport providers begin to amend service agreements to include service levels.


If the core of a network has more bandwidth than is permitted to enter at the edges, then good QoS can be obtained without policing. For example the telephone network employs admission control to limit user demand on the network core by refusing to create a circuit for the requested connection. Over-provisioning is a form of statistical multiplexing that makes liberal estimates of peak user demand. Over-provisioning is used in private networks such as WebEx and the Internet 2 Abilene Network, an American university network.

David Isenberg believes that continued over-provisioning will always provide more capacity for less expense than QoS and deep packet inspection technologies.

Quality of service procedures

Over-provisioning is not above controversy. Unlike the Internet 2 Abilene Network, the Internet is actually a series of exchange points interconnecting private networks and not a network in its own right.

Hence the Internet's core is owned and managed by a number of different Network Service Providers, not a single entity. Its behavior is much more stochastic or unpredictable. Therefore, research continues on QoS procedures that are deployable in large, diverse networks.

There are two principal approaches to QoS in modern packet-switched networks, a parameterized system based on an exchange of application requirements with the network, and a prioritized system where each packet identifies a desired service level to the network.

On the Internet, Integrated services ("IntServ") implements the parameterized approach. In this model, applications use the Resource Reservation Protocol (RSVP) to request and reserve resources through a network.

Differentiated services ("DiffServ") implements the prioritized model. DiffServ marks packets according to the type of service they need. In response to these markings, routers and switches use various queueing strategies to tailor performance to requirements. (At the IP layer, differentiated services code point (DSCP) markings use the first 6 bits in the TOS field of the IP packet header. At the MAC layer, VLAN IEEE 802.1q and IEEE 802.1D can be used to carry essentially the same information.)

Quality of service circumvention

Strong cryptography network protocols such as Secure Sockets Layer, I2P, and virtual private networks obscure the data transferred using them. As all electronic commerce on the Internet requires the use of such strong cryptography protocols, unilaterally downgrading the performance of encrypted traffic creates an unacceptable hazard for customers. Yet, encrypted traffic is otherwise unable to undergo deep packet inspection for QoS.

Quality of Service (QoS) versus network neutrality

It is often claimed that network neutrality is incompatible with quality of service. However, this depends on the definition of network neutrality used. For example both Tim Berners-Lee and Google's definitions appear to permit it, provided that users that have paid for higher prioritization are not blocked in any way from being able to intercommunicate.

Tim Wu's position seems to be more ambivalent, but allows it provided that is the best way to implement functionality. Susan Crawford's definition apparently precludes it, except for overprovisioning schemes that provide the same high quality of service to all packets at all times.

Pricing models

Broadband Internet access has most often been sold to users based on Excess Information Rate or maximum available bandwidth. Some argue that if ISPs can provide varying levels of service to websites at various prices, this may be a way to manage the costs of unused capacity by selling surplus bandwidth (or "leverage price discrimination to recoup costs of 'consumer surplus'"). However, purchasers of connectivity on the basis of Committed Information Rate or guaranteed bandwidth capacity must expect the capacity they purchase in order to meet their communications requirements.

Current practice in interconnection

While the network neutrality debate continues, network providers often enter into peering arrangements among themselves. These agreements often stipulate how certain information flows should be treated. In addition, network providers often implement various policies such as blocking of port 25 to prevent insecure systems from serving as spam relays, or other ports commonly used by decentralized music search applications (often called "P2P" though all applications on the Internet are essentially peer-to-peer). They also present "terms of service" that often include rules about the use of certain applications as part of their contracts with users.

Most "consumer Internet" providers implement policies like these. The MIT Mantid Port Blocking Measurement Project is a measurement effort to characterize Internet port blocking and potentially discriminatory practices. However, the effect of peering arrangements among network providers are only local to the peers that enter into the arrangements, and cannot affect traffic flow outside their scope.

Other aspects of neutrality

Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu observed the Internet is not neutral in terms of its impact on applications having different requirements. It is more beneficial for data applications than for applications that require low latency and low jitter, such as voice and real-time video: "In a universe of applications, including both latency-sensitive and insensitive applications, it is difficult to regard the IP suite as truly neutral." He has proposed regulations on Internet access networks that define net neutrality as equal treatment among similar applications, rather than neutral transmissions regardless of applications.

He proposes allowing broadband operators to make reasonable tradeoffs between the requirements of different applications, while regulators carefully scrutinize network operator behavior where local networks interconnect.

In Wu's view of net neutrality, the network should adapt to the diverse needs of emerging applications; in Crawford's view the network's traditional service structure provides a flexible transport designed to support a broad variety of applications.

Professor Rob Frieden of Pennsylvania State University offers an assessment of the network neutrality debate with emphasis on the business and operational orientations of managers of telephone and data carriers' physical networks. Professor Frieden also assesses the strengths and weaknesses of positions articulated by Professors Tim Wu and Chris Yoo.. Professor Frieden also has explored whether wireless networks have a duty to operate neutral networks in terms of providing access to any technically compatible handset as well as network access by both subscribers and content providers.

Changes in carrier technology regulation

The topic is further complicated by the differences between the Internet and earlier communications systems in their regulatory histories. Essentially no new regulations accompanied the Internet when its technology was first made available to private carriers and the public, while the technical operations of most telecommunications services were regulated from their beginnings.

Some of the arguments associated with network neutrality regulations came into prominence in mid 2002, offered by the "High Tech Broadband Coalition", a group comprising developers for, Google, and Microsoft. However, the fuller concept of "Network neutrality" was developed mainly by regulators and legal academics, most prominently law professors Tim Wu and Lawrence Lessig and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell most often while speaking at the Annual Digital Broadband Migration conference or writing within the pages of the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law, both of the University of Colorado School of Law. However, the ideas underlying network neutrality have a long pedigree in telecommunications practice and regulation.

Proposals for network neutrality laws are generally opposed by the cable television and telephone industries, and some network engineers and free-market scholars from the conservative to libertarian, including Christopher Yoo and Adam Thierer. Opponents argue that (1) Network neutrality regulations severely limit the Internet's usefulness; (2) network neutrality regulations threaten to set a precedent for even more intrusive regulation of the Internet; (3) imposing such regulation will chill investment in competitive networks (e.g., wireless broadband) and deny network providers the ability to differentiate their services; and (4) that network neutrality regulations confuse the unregulated Internet with the highly regulated telecom lines that it has shared with voice and cable customers for most of its history.

According to this view, the Internet has succeeded in attracting users and applications because it has been an oasis of deregulation in the midst of a highly regulated telecom market. Critics of Internet regulation in the name of "net neutrality" also say the Internet is much less neutral than proponents claim, pointing to such practices as the Type of Service header in the IP Datagram, the practice of active queuing described in RFC 2309 and the existence of Integrated Services and Differentiated Services enabling quality of service over IP. According to this view, the Internet is still very weak at meeting the needs of real-time and multimedia applications, and its continued evolution is stymied by the onerous regulations proposed in the name of network neutrality.

These views may be said to contrast with the historical development of network neutrality, which involves a retreat from intrusive regulation, and expanded investment in network construction, consumer and business subscriptions, and the technology sector which requires an open and neutral platform for its business model; they may also be said to more accurately describe the Internet as it has been and may become if not stifled by overly-zealous regulation.

There is also the issue of regulatory capture, where the supposedly regulated entities manipulate the system to their advantage (through political power gained by campaign contributions or independent expenditures), either over competitors, or in collusion with them, largely to increase profits and/or exclude market entrants (particularly those employing new technologies). This exclusion and control by various means has been shown historically to be to the ultimate detriment of consumers, both from higher cost and from slowed innovation.

Monopolies and competition versus network neutrality

Generally, a network which blocks some nodes or services for the customers of the network would normally be expected to be less useful to the customers than one that did not. Therefore for a network to remain significantly non neutral requires either that the customers not be concerned about the particular non neutralities or the customers not have any meaningful choice of providers, otherwise they would presumably switch to another provider with fewer restrictions.

Given this, some commentators have suggested that network neutrality violations can be enforced under antitrust/anti-monopoly legislation, and that no specific laws or regulations are needed. Some countries, like the UK make it relatively easy to change ISPs and dozens of options are available, whereas in the U.S. and many other countries only one or two local network providers are available. It would be expected that any network neutrality issues would be more common where monopoly or duopoly providers exist.

Law in the United States

There is ongoing legal and political wrangling in the US regarding net neutrality. In the meantime the FCC has claimed some jurisdiction over the issue and has laid down guideline rules that it expects the telecommunications industry to follow. On February 11, 2008 Rep. Ed Markey and Rep. Chip Pickering introduced HR5353 "To establish broadband policy and direct the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a proceeding and public broadband summit to assess competition, consumer protection, and consumer choice issues relating to broadband Internet access services, and for other purposes. On June 28, 2006, the Senate Commerce Committee approved the Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act, which entails guidelines battling discrimination. The act detailed broadband consumer rights without nondiscriminatory language urged by net neutrality advocates, thought to be a compromise between the ever-battling net neutrality campaigns. It also instituted parameters regarding the actions taken by broadcasters and various media players.

Law in the European Union

The European Union is going to take active action to legislate network neutrality by seeing the potential damage caused the non-neutral broadband. The European Commission, within the proposals to amend the European regulatory framework for the electronic communications networks and services published on 13 November 2007, considers that prioritisation, or in other words product differentiation, "is generally considered to be beneficial for the market so long as users have choice to access the transmission capabilities and the services they want" and "consequently, the current EU rules allow operators to offer different services to different customers groups, but not allow those who are in a dominant position to discriminate in an anti-competitive manner between customers in similar circumstances. Furthermore, the European Commission thinks that the current European legal framework cannot effectively prevent network operators from degrading their customers. Therefore, it is proposed to empower the European Commission to impose a minimum quality of services in order to tackle this situation. In addition, an obligation of transparency is also proposed to limit network operators' ability to set up restrictions on end-users' choice of lawful content and applications.

The European Commission's proposal is being reviewed by the European Parliament at First Reading. In the summer of 2008, the lead committees in the European Parliament achieved their final draft reports. On 24th September 2008 the European Parliament held a plenary vote on the draft reports from those committees. At the next step the European Council will vote for its common position on the European Commission's legislative proposals on 27th November 2008. After that the negotiation between the European Parliament and the European Council will be made under the cooperation procedure. The adoption of those proposal is supposed to take place before the end of 2009.

The first major debate on Net Neutrality in the UK was held at Westminster on the 20 March 2006, sponsored by AT&T. It was attended by the Government and Opposition trade secretaries, telecommunications regulators, industry figures and other experts in the field. Google, a noted supporter of net neutrality, declined an invitation to the debate, and then called it "biased".. The conclusion was that Net Neutrality laws in the UK would be "extreme... unattractive and impractical" and that it was "an answer to problems we don't have, using a philosophy we don't share"

Law elsewhere in the world

Net neutrality in the common carrier sense has been instantiated into law in many countries, including Japan. In Japan, the nation's largest phone company, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, operates a service called Flet's Square over their FTTH high speed Internet connections that serves video on demand at speeds and levels of service higher than generic Internet traffic. In South Korea, VoIP is blocked on high-speed FTTH networks except where the network operator is the service provider.

Arguments for network neutrality

Protecting control of data

Advocates of network neutrality contend that any non-neutral scheme could allow ISPs to unfairly discriminate and control which data they prioritize, such as data from their own sponsors or media interests:
"[These companies] want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all"..."tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data."..."to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors"..."to reserve express lanes for their own content and services.

On February 7, 2006, Vinton Cerf, a co-inventor of the Internet Protocol (IP), and current Vice President and "Chief Internet Evangelist" at Google, in testimony before Congress, said, "allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success. At the same time, the nation's largest phone and cable companies have spoken out in media about their plans to violate network neutrality principles by filtering content and favoring Web sites and applications of companies that pay them an extra fee.

Claims of data discrimination practices

Save The Internet, an advocacy organization led by media critic Free Press, has cited several situations as examples of discrimination by ISPs, including some in the US:

  • In 2005, Canadian telephone giant Telus blocked access to, a website supporting the company's labour union during a labour dispute, as well as over 600 other websites, for about sixteen hours after pictures were posted on the website of employees crossing the picket line.
  • In April 2006, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned, an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail scheme. An AOL spokesman called the issue an unintentional glitch.
  • In February 2006, some of Cox Cable's customers were unable to access Craig's List because of a confluence of a software bug in the Authentium personal firewall distributed by Cox Cable to improve customers' security and the way that Craigslist had their servers misconfigured. Save the Internet said this was an intentional act on the part of Cox Cable to protect classified ad services offered by its partners. The issue was resolved by correction of the software as well as a change in the network configuration used by Craig's List. Craig's List founder Craig Newmark stated that he believed the blocking was unintentional.
  • In September 2007, Verizon Wireless prevented a pro-choice organization from sending text messages to its members coordinating a public demonstration, despite the fact that the intended recipients had explicitly signed up to receive such messages.
  • In October 2007, Comcast was found to be preventing or at least severely delaying uploads on BitTorrent.

Violations of the principle of network neutrality also occur in the censorship of political, 'immoral' or religious material around the world.] For example China and Saudi Arabia both filter content on the Internet, preventing access to certain types of websites. Singapore has network blocks on more than 100 sites. In Britain, telecommunication companies block access to websites that depict sexually explicit images of children. In the United Arab Emirates as of 2006, Skype was being blocked. In Norway, some ISPs use a voluntary filter to censor websites that the police (Kripos) believe to contain images of abuse of children. Germany also blocks foreign sites for copyright and other reasons.. In the U.S., public institutions (e.g. libraries and schools), by law, block material that is related to the exploitation of children, and 'obscene and pornographic' material. The network filters also block sites and material relating to women’s health, gay and lesbian rights groups, and sexual education for teenagers.

In the U.S. in 2004, a small North Carolina telecom company, Madison River Communications, blocked their DSL customers from using the Vonage VoIP service. Service was restored after the FCC intervened and entered into a consent decree that had Madison River pay a fine of $15,000. The FCC retains this authority under all telecommunications legislation pending in the U.S. Congress, with or without "net neutrality" amendments, with an increase in fines to $500,000 under the House bill and $750,000 under the Senate bill.

Worldwide, the Bittorrent application is widely given reduced bandwidth or even in some cases blocked entirely.

Worldwide, under heavy attack from spam e-mail, many e-mail servers no longer accept connections except from white-listed hosts. While few care about the rights of spammers, this means that legitimate hosts not on the list are often blocked.

Protecting small providers

Some claim that collecting premium fees from certain "preferred" customers would distort the market for Internet applications in favor of larger and better-funded content providers and against small providers. They argue for banning such financial arrangements, even if those payments might offset total network operating costs ultimately charged to consumers.

Protecting consumers

There is also the question of the service impact on the end user who has purchased broadband access from a carrier, only to experience differing response times in interacting with various content providers, some of whom paid the carrier a "premium" and some who did not.

Preserving Internet standards

Numerous commentors have cautioned that authorizing incumbent network providers to override the separation of the transport and application layers of the Internet signals the end of the authority of the fundamental Internet standards and indeed, of the standards-making processes for the Internet themselves.

Advocates of network neutrality observe that any practice that shapes the transmission of bits in the transport layer based on application designs will undermine the design for flexibility of the transport.

End-to-end principle

One specific aspect of the Internet is that some advocates say network neutrality is needed in order to ensure the end-to-end principle. Under this principle, a neutral network is a dumb network, merely passing packets regardless of the applications they support. This point of view was expressed by David S. Isenberg in his seminal paper, The Rise of the Stupid Network to wit:

A new network "philosophy and architecture," is replacing the vision of an Intelligent Network. The vision is one in which the public communications network would be engineered for "always-on" use, not intermittence and scarcity. It would be engineered for intelligence at the end-user's device, not in the network. And the network would be engineered simply to "Deliver the Bits, Stupid," not for fancy network routing or "smart" number translation. . . . In the Stupid Network, the data would tell the network where it needs to go. (In contrast, in a circuit network, the network tells the data where to go.) In a Stupid Network, the data on it would be the boss. . . .End user devices would be free to behave flexibly because, in the Stupid Network the data is boss, bits are essentially free, and there is no assumption that the data is of a single data rate or data type.

These terms merely signify the network's level of knowledge about and influence over the packets it handles - they carry no connotations of stupidity, inferiority or superiority.

The seminal paper on the End-to-End Principle, End-to-end arguments in system design by Saltzer, Reed, and Clark, actually argues that network intelligence doesn't relieve end systems of the requirement to check inbound data for errors and to rate-limit the sender, not for a wholesale removal of intelligence in the network core. End-to-end is one of many design tools, not the universal one:

The end-to-end argument does not tell us where to put the early checks, since either layer can do this performance-enhancement job. Placing the early retry protocol in the file transfer application simplifies the communication system, but may increase overall cost, since the communication system is shared by other applications and each application must now provide its own reliability enhancement. Placing the early retry protocol in the communication system may be more efficient, since it may be performed inside the network on a hop-by-hop basis, reducing the delay involved in correcting a failure. At the same time, there may be some application that finds the cost of the enhancement is not worth the result but it now has no choice in the matter.

The appropriate placement of functions in a protocol stack depends on many factors.

Level playing field has argued that the Internet currently serves as a "level playing-field," in that end users and content providers are charged a flat fee for access to the entire highspeed infrastructure. They claim that regulations maintaining this dynamic would reward the best ideas rather than the most well-funded ideas. Amounts and type of bandwidth usage need not be specifically charged for, beyond the basic and minimally discriminatory fees for access to ISP servers.

Doubts about quality of service

Gary Bachula, Vice President for External Affairs for Internet2, asserts that specific QoS protocols are unnecessary in the core network as long as the core network links are "over-provisioned" to the point that network traffic never encounters delay. In quality of service engineering, this formulation is guaranteed by the admission control feature.

The Internet2 project found, in 2001, that the QoS protocols were probably not deployable inside its Abilene network with equipment available at that time. While newer routers are capable of following QoS protocols with no loss of performance, equipment available at the time relied on software to implement QoS. The Internet2 Abilene network group also predicted that "logistical, financial, and organizational barriers will block the way toward any bandwidth guarantees" by protocol modifications aimed at QoS. In essence they believe that the economics would be likely to make the network providers deliberately erode the quality of best effort traffic as a way to push customers to higher priced QoS services.

The Abilene network study was the basis for the testimony of Gary Bachula to the Senate Commerce Committee's Hearing on Network Neutrality in early 2006. He expressed the opinion that adding more bandwidth was more effective than any of the various schemes for accomplishing QoS they examined.

Bachula's testimony has been cited by proponents of a law banning quality of service as proof that no legitimate purpose is served by such an offering. Of course this argument is dependent on the assumption that over-provisioning isn't a form of QoS and that it's always possible. Obviously, cost and other factors affect the ability of carriers to build and maintain permanently over-provisioned networks.


Network neutrality regulations are supported by consumers-rights groups such as Consumers Union, large Internet content companies (e.g., Google, Yahoo, and eBay), some high-tech trade associations such the American Electronics Association (AeA), and politically liberal blogs.

In April 2006 a large coalition of public interest, consumer rights and free speech advocacy groups and thousands of bloggers -- such as Free Press, Gun Owners of America, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Library Association, Christian Coalition of America, Consumers Union, Common Cause and MoveOn -- launched the Coalition, a broad-based initiative working to "ensure that Congress passes no telecommunications legislation without meaningful and enforceable network neutrality protections." Within two months of its establishment, over 1,000,000 signatures were delivered to Congress in favor of a network neutrality policies. By the close of 2006, had collected more than 1.5 million signatures effectively stalling legislation in Congress that didn't write Net Neutrality protections into law.

A coalition including Steve Wozniak, Susan Crawford, and David Reed has endorsed a distinctive legislative proposal for net neutrality. Most of the major Internet application companies are advocates of neutrality regulations, including IAC/InterActiveCorp, Ebay, Amazon, Yahoo!, YouTube, Earthlink and especially Google. Software giant Microsoft has also taken a stance in support of neutrality regulation. Non-profits in support include, Consumer Federation of America, AARP, American Library Association, Gun Owners of America, Public Knowledge, the Media Access Project, the Christian Coalition, and TechNet. Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web) has also spoken out in favor of net neutrality.

Cogent Communications, an Internet service provider, has made an announcement in favor of certain net neutrality policies.

Arguments against network neutrality regulations

Network neutrality regulations are opposed by some of the Internet's most distinguished engineers, such as professor David Farber and TCP inventor Bob Kahn. Vinton Cerf supports it while others oppose regulated network neutrality.

American telecommunications companies claim the right under U.S. law to operate their networks with minimal government interference. They claim that anti-tiering regulations may indirectly prevent the expansion and improvement of Internet access for their customers, who have used an increasing amount of bandwidth. The telecommunications corporations also claim that a lack of differentiated funding sources has slowed their own corporations' implementations of new technologies and also resulted in elevated prices for many of their customers.

Network neutrality regulations are also opposed by free market advocacy groups as well as minority advocacy groups such as the National Black Chamber of Commerce and LULAC, which receive financial support from telecommunications companies. The Communications Workers of America, the largest union representing installers and maintainers of telecommunications infrastructure, opposes the regulations.

Counterweight to server-side non-neutrality

Those in favor of forms of "non-neutral" tiered internet access argue that the Internet is already not a level-playing field: companies such as Google and Akamai achieve a performance advantage over smaller competitors by replicating servers and buying high-bandwidth services. Should prices drop for lower levels of access, or access to only certain protocols, for instance, a change of this type would make internet usage more neutral, with respect to the needs of those individuals and corporations specifically seeking differentiated tiers of service.

Tim Wu, though a proponent of network neutrality, claims that the current Internet is not neutral as, "among all applications", its implementation of best effort generally favors file transfer and other non-time sensitive traffic over real-time communications.

Encouraging investment

Opponents of network neutrality regulations claim they would discourage investment in broadband networks:
"Sweeping and rigid net neutrality legislation could: hinder public safety and homeland security; complicate protecting Americans privacy; erode the quality and responsiveness of the Internet; limit consumers' competitive choices; and discourage investment in broadband deployment to all Americans."

Some argue that the Internet is in the midst of tremendous change due to fiber to the home, peer-to-peer applications, VoIP, and IPTV, and regulations offered to date are potentially damaging to network operation and investment.

Opponents of Net Neutrality compare the present state of the Internet to the phone system. Right now we are at a place where the internet is comparable to the early wired phone system. At some point, phone systems began offering a "second tier" of service in the form of wireless mobile phones. The prices for early mobile phones were high because the companies had to research, design, and manufacture the infrastructure. Initially, only wealthier people have access to the technology, but over time cell phones become cheaper and better in an unregulated free market. If the government steps in to prevent a "two-tier" Internet infrastructure, business has no incentive to develop and upgrade to better technology.

Ensuring bandwidth availability

Advocates of "non-neutrality" regulation (or allowance) point to advantages with respect to rationing what perhaps will be scarce bandwidth. Indeed, the topic was opened because of what may be a substantial increase in bandwidth consumption as multi-media uses of the Internet expand. Carriers want content providers who support bandwidth-intensive multi-media Internet traffic to pay the carriers a premium to support further network investments.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed described the amount of data produced globally in exabytes, calling the potential bandwidth crunch the "exaflood"

At times Internet traffic has already caused Internet services to fail (see congestion collapse and slashdot effect). In such cases, high latency connections result in interruption of services. An environment in which a content provider can provide a guaranteed quality of service to all customers could allow independent content providers to compete with traditional content providers in areas such as television and music broadcast, telephony, and video on demand.

One of the clearest examples of the need for a highly reliable, low latency, high bandwidth connection, is the developing technology of Remote surgery, where a surgeon can use robotics and communications technology to operate on a patient thousands of miles away. Using dedicated circuits is highly desirable in this situation as the penalty for a communications failure could be death, so they are used in all cases; if they weren't available, prioritized bandwidth would be preferred to normal bandwidth. In a similar category are emergency calls to fire and police.

Residential broadband providers such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T claim that as bandwidth-intensive peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent become commonplace, the traditional Internet congestion management system, which was not designed to handle continuous, high-bandwidth usage, may no longer be viable, so alternate methods may become necessary. These alternate methods include bandwidth limits and priority-based quality of service for voice and video.

Free speech

The Bell companies and some major cable companies view non-discrimination as compelled speech prohibited by the First Amendment because they think that cases like Chesapeake and Potomac and even Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC stands for the rule that Telcos and Cablecos are First Amendment speakers, and as such cannot be compelled to promote speech they disagree with.

Skepticism of government regulation

Given a rapidly-changing technological and market environment, many in the public policy area question the government's ability to make and maintain meaningful regulation that doesn't cause more harm than good.

For example, fair queuing would actually be illegal under several proposals as it requires prioritization of packets based on criteria other than that permitted by the proposed law. Quoting Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent,"I most definitely do not want the Internet to become like television where there's actual censorship... however it is very difficult to actually create network neutrality laws which don't result in an absurdity like making it so that ISPs can't drop spam or stop... (hacker) attacks."

In line with this view, the Wall Street Journal wrote: "Government’s role here, properly understood, is not to tell Comcast how to manage its network. Rather, it is to make sure consumers have alternatives to Comcast if they are unhappy with their Internet service."


Opposition to network neutrality regulations comes from leading Internet inventors and network engineers, as well as ISPs, hardware manufacturers and some business groups. Individuals who oppose network neutrality include:

Robert Pepper -- Robert Pepper is senior managing director, global advanced technology policy, at Cisco Systems, and is the former FCC chief of policy development. He says: "The supporters of net neutrality regulation believe that more rules are necessary. In their view, without greater regulation, service providers might parcel out bandwidth or services, creating a bifurcated world in which the wealthy enjoy first-class Internet access, while everyone else is left with slow connections and degraded content.

Bob Kahn -- Bob Kahn, one of the fathers of the Internet, has said net neutrality is a slogan that would freeze innovation in the core of the Internet.

Dave Farber, Michael Katz, Chris Yoo, and Gerald Faulhaber -- Farber, known as the 'grandfather of the Internet' because he taught many of its chief designers, has written and spoken strongly in favor of continued research and development on core Internet protocols. He joined academic colleagues Michael Katz, Chris Yoo, and Gerald Faulhaber in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post strongly critical of network neutrality, stating, "The Internet needs a makeover. Unfortunately, congressional initiatives aimed at preserving the best of the old Internet threaten to stifle the emergence of the new one." ''

Opposition also comes from think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute; free-market advocacy organizations such as the FreedomWorks Foundation, National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the Progress and Freedom Foundation; and high-tech trade groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers. Finally, large communication carriers and network equipment manufacturers such as Cisco and 3M believe neutrality regulations are premature and/or counter-productive.

A number of these opponents have created a website called Hands Off The Internet to explain their arguments against Net Neutrality. Principal financial support for the website comes from AT&T. Other members include technology firms such as Alcatel, 3M and pro-market advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste.

Mixed and other views on net neutrality

In the past, Comcast has taken a somewhat mixed position in that they consider neutral networks desirable, but think regulation is a mistake. Currently Comcast is facing lawsuits over bandwidth throttling of the various classes of internet traffic including BitTorrent, Gnutella, and Lotus Notes.

Journalist Andy Kessler has argued this point, stating that the threat of eminent domain against the telcos, instead of new legislation, is the best approach. Some U.S. technology trade associations have remained noncommittal on the issue. The U.S. financial sector has similarly remained neutral.

Journalist Jeffrey Birnbaum has called the debate overhyped, saying the claims of both sides are "vague and misleading".

Jon Peha from Carnegie Mellon University in his paper "The Benefits and Risks of Mandating Network Neutrality, and the Quest for a Balanced Policy" presents a challenge for policy makers to create policies that protect users from harmful traffic discrimination while allowing beneficial discrimination. Mr. Peha's paper serves as an in-depth primer on net neutrality-- the technologies that enable traffic discrimination, examples of different types of discrimination, and potential impacts of regulation.

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