Net neutrality is a principle that ensures the Internet runs in a non-discriminatory fashion. It ensures the fundamental spirit of freedom upon which the Internet has become a success; however, large Internet Service Providers and companies are seeking to defeat it in the interest of their own corporate greed by prioritizing the services of Web sites that pay extra fees.
While there is currently full net neutrality throughout the world currently, and there are no legal restrictions against it, the division between advocates and opponents of the principle is growing. Democrats in Congress have repeatedly and unsuccessfully proposed levying regulations to prevent any restrictions against net neutrality.
On Jan. 9, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act in the Senate, or the Net Neutrality Act, in the hope that, because Congress now has a Democratic majority, the bill has a better chance of being passed than it did last year, in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee met with the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission in an attempt to clarify its position on net neutrality, but Republican FCC chairman Kevin Martin seemed unlikely to agree to any enforcement of net neutrality.
With Net Neutrality, Internet users have equal access to the Internet and are in control of what content they view and what applications they use. Since the establishment of the Internet, ISPs have treated all Web sites with relatively equal priority. However, large ISPs are working to allow the purchase of bandwidth and higher-speed service to partners and affiliates, meaning that users will be able to visit some sites faster than others, at the expense of slower access to other, less-profitable sites.
Without the enforcement of net neutrality, this also means that sites that do not pay will provide slower service, and may not be able to offer certain applications. These Web sites will lose visitors to larger Web sites and may even close down. Without net neutrality, surviving smaller sites will fall into a vicious circle; they will receive less revenue and be less able to purchase bandwidth.
Net neutrality must be guarded from greedy corporations that want to profit from the idea that the Internet must be operated with minimal government interference. Destroying net neutrality would violate the partiality and openness which the Internet has given users for years.
ISPs like AT&T not only charge Internet users monthly, they want to charge Web sites as well. Charging larger Web sites for priority connectivity, however, not only renders smaller Web sites powerless, it also strips Internet users of the ability to browse freely.
Though net neutrality is opposed by large corporations, it is supported by Web sites such as Yahoo!, Google and eBay. Google has even written on its Web site, ‘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.’
It was because of net neutrality that Google, initially a small two-man research project, was given the chance to develop and compete against larger search engines. Today it is the preferred search engine of millions and one of the most visited pages in the world. Without net neutrality, the passage for new and growing Web sites will be practically closed, and average users will be limited in what they can do online.
Today, many Internet users have their own e-mail addresses, instant messaging screen names, online journals and Web sites. Net neutrality protects our online participation; without it, we may not be able to download, read e-mails, chat or access our Web sites as efficiently as we do now. Corporate companies see the possibility of a new revenue stream in the Internet, but the Internet belongs to everyone. Preserving net neutrality means preserving the fundamental freedom for all users to control their involvement in the Internet.