Against Fee-Based and other Pernicious Net Prejudice: An Explanation and Examinationof the Net Neutrality DebateBy Alok Bhardwaj November 27, 2007
I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass.
For every packet sent by me as good as one sent by you
. A line the just and democraticWalt Whitman would pen were he alive today in response to the need for legislation to protect net neutrality. The internet, after ten years of being a mass media, is the mostimportant mass media in the world. It’s the most democratic, open forum for free speechand expression that exists. Like freedom and democracy, it must be protected from thosewho would use their power to debase those ideals in order to unfairly secure more power and profit. Today, we face not just a potential but an actual threat in the guise of anti-netneutrality or what should more accurately and succinctly be called net prejudice. Net neutrality is the principle that every website (of the same class—more on “class”later) should be treated equally and not given any preferential treatment in respect toother websites. In other words, if you click on Google and on Yahoo, your internetservice provider (ISP) will use the fastest possible routes to deliver each website to you.It doesn’t have special routes or other preferences for one site versus another. Net Neutrality doesn’t prevent variations in overall service—in other words, it may be thatyou pay twice as much as your neighbor in order to have more bandwidth which couldlead to Yahoo loading up faster on your computer than it does on hers even if you bothclicked on Yahoo at the same time. Service providers can and should provide varioustiers of overall service depending on your needs, but once you subscribe to a given tier of service, there shouldn’t be additional fees levied on you or on the sites you access for what I call prejudicial service.Fee-based net prejudice, what telecommunications and internet service companies arearguing they should be allowed to continue informally and begin more formally to practice, would allow your internet service provider to charge websites an extra fee whichwould enable a website which pays to reach you faster than other websites. To take our above example, let’s suppose Yahoo agrees to pay your service provider some fee andGoogle doesn’t—then Google, who doesn’t pay this fee, would come to you later thanYahoo, who does pay, even though you clicked on them at the exact same time.If your first instinct is that this sounds more like a bribe (from Yahoo) then an actualservice that’s been provided—that’s exactly right. While there are scenarios in whichfee-based net prejudice could lead to genuine investment and services, when the designand the current state of the internet is examined, there is overwhelming evidence and