Neutral on neutrality

When I started to pen this column on network neutrality — thenotion that all content on the Internet should continue to betreated equally — I thought I was on the side of grassrootscoalitions like Save theInternet and Hands off theInternet.

These groups believe that Internet traffic should not be parsedbased on the traffic’s source, content or destination, and theypredict that the Internet will become a private toll road unlessCongress writes a strong definition of network neutrality into theCommunications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006(COPE), otherwise known as HR 5252, the proposed rewrite of the TelecomAct of 1996.

What’s the position of the telecom providers? They’ve investedbillions to upgrade network infrastructure in anticipation of morebandwidth-intensive apps. In order to continue investing in thehealth of the Internet, and in order to have it run smoothly, theyneed to be able to discriminate between high-demand and low-demandtraffic.

The word that sticks in the craw is “discriminate,” and it hassent millions of Internet users into a frenzy of worry that alooser definition of network neutrality will turn large telecomproviders into not only toll collectors but content police.

Think of your own use of the Internet. Are your digital photosand home videos consuming more bandwidth? Of course they are. Whatabout your corporate website? Are you using streaming video yet?And what happens if the “Year of Videoconferencing” actuallybecomes reality? Bandwidth demand skyrockets.

I’ve reconsidered. I’m now neutral on the concept of networkneutrality. The real issue–what’s really important to address–ishow woefully behind the rest of the world the United States is inpervasive, high-speed broadband deployment.

What our nation needs more than HR 5252 is a comprehensive,long-term national telecommunications infrastructure policy thatlays out how our country will build that national high-speedbroadband network. If we don’t, our nation will not be able to COPEwith the rest of world.

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