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Is Network Neutrality Affecting the Internet?

Suganya Sukumar
Network Neutrality and its effect on the Internet is one of the hottest technical debates that's been going on since 2006. Network providers and the application providers such as Google, Yahoo etc., are the primary fighters in this battle. To know more about this, read the story.
Network neutrality is an ongoing debate which started in 2006, when House Energy and Commerce Committee bill was introduced, which included the provisions mandating Internet neutrality. The debate heated up between two groups on each side.

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On one side is the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and on the other side is the civil society groups such as Free Press and Center for Digital Democracy. ISPs are lobbying hard against the provisions written in the bill and the civil society groups are rallying in support for the bill.
Internet pioneer, Sir Tim-Berners-Lee extended his support for net neutrality in an interview in The New York Times. In contrast, one of the ISPs, Comcast, deliberately slowed down the peer to peer communication.

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Data communication between two computers is possible only through a network, which transports the message from one computer to the destination computer. Network providers or ISPs, can access the content, and choose their priority message to be transferred between the two systems.

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The network neutral approach is something against this model. Some of the potential points that support this concept are:
  • Quality of Service (QoS)
  • No hindrance in information service
  • No discrimination in service and imposes equality

Principle of Network Neutrality

The contents, services and applications in the Internet should be accessed by the users without any interference from the network operators or the ISPs and government. The biasing and prejudice in the transmission of data by the Internet Service Providers should be restricted.
Internet users should be able to use the bandwidth however they want, and access the information in the Internet to the fullest without any discrimination.

Effects on the Internet

Bandwidth Usage

Substantial bandwidth is used for video streaming and peer-to-peer file sharing. There are many big companies like YouTube, which provide free video content, for millions of users around the world. This causes a huge consumption of bandwidth, due to which network providers want to charge such companies for their video-content, available on their websites.

Internet Traffic and Control of Data

Internet Service Providers, can control the traffic and be biased toward the network. Those who are in favor of network neutrality feel that the Internet traffic that is being controlled or biased by the ISPs should be restricted. The ISPs have a priority in distributing the data services to the entities.
Some Internet services are given priority by the ISPs and the content providers are charged for certain services. The supporters denote that this is a kind of prejudice against application providers and content providers. So, they want the US government to restrict the actions of the ISPs, and provide free-flow of information on the Internet.

Architecture Vs. Network Neutrality

Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), is one of the centralized networks which can be controlled easily and it doesn't support Internet neutrality. PSTN makes the Internet more centralized because of its distribution growth and numerous links.
The network operators are incorporating PSTN services, which increases the centralization of the Internet. The distributed networks such as the Internet, supports net neutrality, but the ISPs can bias the traffic.
Vinton Cerf, who is considered as the 'Father of the Internet', puts it like this, "The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. A light weight but enforceable neutrality rule is needed to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive."
However, the US Federal Trade Commission, dismissed the claims of the defenders, and made a hands-off approach to resist the restrictions imposed on the network providers. The dynamics in the Internet market are complex and the change in the Internet regulations cannot be predicted.